Practical Technology

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BitTorrent jumps into (DRMed) Video Distribution


Forget about HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray, the future of television is the Internet. BitTorrent, the company behind the world’s most popular peer-to-peer protocol around gets that. What it doesn’t get is that restricting its rental and purchasable videos to Windows Media compatible formats is downright foolish.

First, here’s what BitTorrent is doing. It’s made a deal with a host of movie and television companies to make some of their content legally available over the net by the BitTorrent protocol. Its partners include: 20th Century Fox, Lions Gate, MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.

BitTorrent claims that its network includes “The most comprehensive catalog of on-demand movies, TV shows, Music, and Games on the Internet, with over 5,000 titles (more than 10x what iTunes has to offer), over 40 hours of HD programming, first run films that will be available before they are released on DVD, and unique editorial content that won’t be found anywhere else.” New movies available from the service include Little Miss Sunshine, An Inconvenient Truth, Superman Returns, and The Poseidon Adventure.

TV programming will include such popular such as “24” and “Prison Break” from 20th Century Fox; “My Super Sweet Sixteen” from MTV: Music Television; “Celebrity Deathmatch” from MTV2; “Muscle Car” and “Xtreme 4×4” from Spike TV; Emmy and Peabody-Award winning “South Park” and “Mind of Mencia” from COMEDY CENTRAL; “Hogan Knows Best” and “Breaking Bonaduce” from VH1;”SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender” from Nickelodeon; “Skyland” from Nicktoons Network

Users can rent movies, purchase television shows and music videos, and publish their own high-quality content. Some of this content is free–Night of the Living Dead anyone?

The free offerings appear to mostly in the MP4 format. Most of the content, however, will cost you a bit and comes in Windows Media Format. The service offers new release movie rentals for $3.99 and classic titles for $2.99 TV shows and music videos are download-to-own at $1.99. These are all protected by Microsoft DRM (Digital Rights Management.).

According to a BitTorrent public relations representative, the media companies insisted on this. No, Windows DRM, no content.

The movie studios like this deal. “BitTorrent has the infrastructure, technology and established user base to significantly move the needle on digital distribution with quick, easy and affordable delivery,” said Thomas Lesinski, president of Paramount Pictures ‘ Digital Entertainment division in a statement. “The final piece of the puzzle is a wide array of content and Paramount is very pleased to be providing a vast selection of filmed entertainment to the site.”

Because of this DRM decision to use the new BitTorrent service, according to BitTorrent you must be running Windows XP SP2 or higher, Internet Explorer 6 or higher and WMP (Windows Media Player) 10 or higher. Mac and Linux users? So sorry, this service isn’t for you.

It’s also not for anyone who wants to watch their media on portable devices such as iPods, Zunes, PlayStation Portables, or similar devices. You can watch it on television, presuming you have a computer or device that supports Windows Media like Microsoft’s own Xbox 360

The new BitTorrent site isn’t just for the big boys. The BitTorrent entertainment network can also be utilized as a distribution platform for independent content creators. “We’re leveling the playing field for independent artists who have been turned away by publishers who are traditionally bound by scarce distribution alternatives and limited shelf space,” said Ashwin Navin, BitTorrent’s president.

In some ways, I like this deal. I really do believe that the Internet is the way we’ll all be getting the movies and TV shows we want when we want them. Yes, you can get everything that BitTorrent offers for free, and more, from pirate sites like The Pirate Bay, but I’m not crazy about these sites either.

I believe that the people who make movies, music and the like deserved to be paid for their efforts. I also think that DRM is a lousy way of doing it. As ZDNet Executive Editor David Berlind has said, CRAP or Content, Restriction, Annulment, and Protection, is a catchier phrase than DRM – Digital Rights Management.

CRAP is also far more accurate. I know some of you are certain that since Microsoft is behind this standard, you’ll still be able to play your episodes of Buffy a few years down the road. I’m sure the people who bought into Microsoft’s now semi-abandoned PlaysForSure campaign a couple of years back felt the same way.

Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, would like to see DRM come to an end. He thinks that common business sense and government pressure will finally persuade the big four of the music business, Vivendi’s Universal Music Group; Sony BMG Music Entertainment, which is owned by Sony and Bertelsmann; EMI Group; and Warner Music Group, to dump DRM.

Perhaps once BitTorrent can show its media partners that online is the new video store; they’ll start trying to convince them to dump the CRAP as well. We live in hope.

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