BitTorrent is in the process of introducing a decentralized distribution service called BitTorrent bundles. It's a bit of a work in progress right now, but it's something that's worth keeping your eyes on, as it could potentially provide a low-cost promotion and distribution option for filmmakers.
How BitTorrent Bundles Work
A bundle is like a torrent file. You are familiar with those right? I'm sure you've used torrents to download plenty of legitimate content :).
The difference between a bundle and a normal torrent is that a bundle is broken up into two parts. There is a free sample that anyone can open, and there is premium content that must be unlocked by a key.
To unlock the premium content, the user must perform a specific action that is defined by the publisher. It could be sharing on Facebook or Twitter, signing up for a mailing list, pre-ordering something or even paying.
Benefits to Filmmakers
Bundles could be a cheap way to distribute content
One of the biggest benefits of using BitTorrent to distribute films is the cost.
Unlike centralized distribution sites like Vimeo, BitTorrent doesn't have to pay for bandwidth because of how peer to peer technology works. These savings are passed on to the distributor.
BitTorrent is also an efficient way to transfer files. You don't have to worry about slow servers or large files when you are using the protocol, so packages could be really big.
If you wanted to offer a multi-gigabyte bundle that included raw footage that could be remixed, storyboards, interviews, 4K files, or different versions of a film, BitTorrent could handle it.
Bundles are a flexible distribution option
Bundles can be filled with anything you anything you want. You can package all sorts of bonus material like trailers, behind the scenes footage, exclusive music, and images. The only limit to what you can include is your creativity. The actions you can define to unlock bundles are very flexible as well.
- If your objective is building awareness the unlocking action could be sharing a link on Facebook or Twitter.
- If your objective is building an audience that you can interact with throughout your project, the action could be entering an email.
- If the objective is to sell things, pre-ordering a DVD through your physical store could be the call to action.
- Finally, you can chose a pay what you can model, where the downloader is asked for a donation.
This could be the foundation of an interesting release strategy. You could start out by offering a bundle in exchange for a tweet, and then change to a paid distribution model once you have generated a high level of awareness.
Your audience is already on BitTorrent
At its heart, distribution is really about finding where your audience is and then offering your product or service to them in a convenient way.
If 170 million people use the BitTorrent to share movies, TV shows, and music, then it seems like it's a safe bet that part of your target audience is here.
BitTorrent (and other self-distribution platforms like Reelhouse.tv) offer you instant global reach, compared to more geographically restricted services like Netflix whose 36 million streaming customers are almost all located in the US.
I suspect that distributing through BitTorrent would help reach a different audience than people viewing on Vimeo, Netflix, or iTunes.
BitTorrent's Big Challenge is Reputation
Say the word BitTorrent and people think of free downloads using the protocol, and not the actual company. There are two issues with this:
People associate the company with piracy. BitTorrent may be a legitimate company that doesn't actually distribute pirated content, but that's not how it's perceived by downloaders or many entertainment companies. Changing this perception will be difficult.
The audience on BitTorrent may be unwilling to open their wallets. People may be so used to downloading for free on BitTorrent that they will refuse to "pay" when they can get the exact same content for free by clicking a different torrent.
Getting Ready for Prime Time
Creating BitTorrent bundles still isn't a self-serve process. Like some other self-distribution options that are emerging, BitTorrent is working directly with selected artists and curating the bundles.
Right now it takes BitTorrent a significant amount of time to assemble a bundle (I'm not sure why?). However, I doubt it will be long before things are democratized and opened to the masses.
I can see how bundles would work well in situations where the transaction costs are low like sending a tweet or liking on Facebook. I'm a little more skeptical about whether people will pay to unlock full movies in the near term.
If the biggest challenge that filmmakers face is generating awareness, perhaps the best way to use BitTorrent Bundles is as a promotional tool. You could offer exclusive material in exchange for signing up for an email list. As you build up a list of fans, you could direct them to complete transactions on stores like iTunes, VHX.tv, Vimeo, or Reelhouse. You could also rally your fanbase to get local theaters to screen the movie, or you could use the mailing list as the basis for organizing a promotional tour. Once you have an audience, you can channel it in many ways.
Author Tim Ferris did something similar when he was trying to promote his new book "The Four Hour Chef." He offered 2.5 GB of material as a free bundle (much of it video) and then directed people that liked the content to finish the purchase on Amazon at a 40% discount off the retail price. Bundles were his most effective promotional channel.
What do you think? Can BitTorrent work for independent filmmakers? Is this something that studios could embrace to lower their distribution costs? Let us know in the comments.