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The NYU Cinema Research Institute brings together innovators in film and media finance, production, marketing, and distribution to imagine and realize a new future for artist-entrepreneurs. 


How BitTorrent Will Help Artists

Claire Harlam

"The email address is the most valuable thing you can get from a consumer. It's probably worth more than a direct sale through iTunes," according to [Matt] Mason, who says the artist can then use that email to sell the fan multiple albums, concert tickets, merchandise and more down the line. We [BitTorrent] did a campaign with the author Tim Ferris on his new book "The 4-Hour Chef." In the first seven days of that campaign, we saw 210,000 downloads of the sample of the book. That's awesome, but what's even more awesome is that of those people, 85,000 of them then visited Tim's Amazon page for the book. That's a sick conversion rate. That's off the charts.

BitTorrent, the file sharing protocol, moves 30% of Internet traffic. BitTorrent, the company, is dedicated to figuring out how they can help content creators take advantage of this staggering statistic.

Here are some highlights from an interesting and encouraging MediaShift interview with BitTorrent's director of Marketing, Matt Mason:

When it comes to entertainment companies, they have an in-grown fear of piracy. Is it hard to change their minds so you can work with them?

Mason: Yes, absolutely, and it's difficult to convince people, and convince everybody at a company that it's a good idea [to work with us]. We might convince a band, their manager and the CEO of the label, but the [general manager] of the label might say, 'You can't work with BitTorrent ever, ever, ever. It means piracy.' And we don't ever get to talk to that person. It's difficult, but we are seeing the tide turn. Over the last year, we've done a lot of cool stuff with content. And when we go out and talk at media events, we tend to get a different reception; people are interested in the experiments we've been running.

Moving into 2013, our mission is: How do we create as many great tools for publishers to access the BitTorrent ecosystem as there are for consumers?

Have you tried getting people to pay for downloads?

Mason: We've experimented with having people pay right off the bat, or at least allow people to donate. Last year we did a really interesting experiment with a TV show called "Pioneer One." Two filmmakers from New York made a pilot. The pilot got a lot of attention and won an award at Tribeca. They were interested in a new way to distribute it, and even a new way to fund the production.

Funding TV is kind of crazy if you do something with one of the big networks or cable channels. You might get $4 million to make your pilot, and it could be great, and it could get great feedback in focus groups. But if there's a scheduling conflict with "Desperate Housewives," that pilot could be shelved and no one will ever see it. That's a reality for a lot of TV producers.

These guys were interested in creating a show and finding out if people were actually interested in seeing it. We put up the pilot through BitTorrent for free, and we gave people the opportunity to donate to make Episode 2. They had between 4 million and 6 million downloads of Episode 1 and got enough donations to make Episode 2. Then they had enough donations to make Episode 3, and then 4, and so on. They got enough donations to make an entire season of "Pioneer One" that ran over an entire year. That was a successful experiment, which was funded directly by the BitTorrent audience.

That's one thing we did, but we've done many more. Our take is that there isn't any one way to distribute content in the digital world. There's actually a different business model for every piece of content.