HBO‘s Game Of Thrones has made piracy history. According to TorrentFreak, more than 193,000 BitTorrent users shared a single copy of Sunday’s episode and about 1.5 million people downloaded it during the first 24 hours. The numbers are “unprecedented”, says TorrentFreak. The previous record was set last year, when 171.5K shared the same file of GOT‘s Season 3 finale. Over 1 million BitTorrent users downloaded that episode. The HBO show is a network exclusive and not available on services like Netflix, leading to increased piracy numbers particularly overseas.
DIY distribution platform VHX made a big move at SXSW this week when it opened its digital doors to the public, allowing any content creator to sell direct to fans at low cost. The start-up founded in 2011 by Jamie Wilkinson and Casey Pugh had been in private beta for two years building a library of over 300 select titles from indie filmmakers and film companies including Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me, and Oscar nominated docu The Act of Killing. Unlike video distribution storefronts like Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and iTunes, VHX offers technology that allows makers to sell content direct to fans via high quality streaming or DRM-free download at price points of their choosing, on their own websites. That means flinging the gates wide open to any and all content. “The goal is to close the gap between interest and availability,” VHX co-founder Wilkinson told me in Austin. Most digital distributors are selective in their content deals but VHX is a facilitator, not a gatekeeper of content.
VHX is one of a handful of rising DIY distribution companies offering content creators an alternative to aggregators by cutting out the middleman, dramatically changing traditional distribution models, territorial rights, and release windows – not just the means of delivery. “Traditional distribution thinking is that the world is chunked up into borders and information does not cross these borders, but the internet has changed all that,” said Wilkinson. VHX allows users to geofilter content by region but recommends they offer worldwide releases for maximum exposure. More than half of VHX sales come from outside the U.S. from consumers who don’t want to wait for a film to expand to their region or hit home video. “When you’re marketing or at a premiere in the U.S., people hear about it and there’s demand all over the world. We see tons of successful pre-orders because of that – there’s demand and people are Googling the film and they want to take some kind of action. You might as well offer it for purchase.”
The total for the Oscar-nominated documentary is three times bigger than the audience it has reached on YouTube, BitTorrent says in a blog post. The firm launched its bundle on December 31, in collaboration with Drafthouse Films. The Act Of Killing profiles the death squad leaders who committed mass murders in Indonesia in the 1960s. Some re-enact their murders for the camera, which leads at least one to start to come to terms with the severity of the crimes. In addition to the film, the BitTorrent package includes interviews, essays, and stills from director Joshua Oppenheimer, and executive producers Werner Herzog and Errol Morris as well as TEMPO Magazine‘s account of the film’s impact on Indonesia. Drafthouse plans to return the film to theaters on February 7.
Madonna, VICE, and BitTorrent have unveiled secretprojectrevolution, the 17-minute short film Madonna has been teasing online for months. The multihyphenate, who most recently helmed 2011’s W.E., co-directed the short with Steven Klein for the Art for Freedom project which launches September 24 at 2 PM ET. That’s when secretprojectrevolution will be made available for free as a BitTorrent Bundle. The download will include stills from the film, three HD film trailers, and with an email gate an exclusive HD 2K interview with Madonna by VICE’s CCO Eddy Moretti along with a handwritten note from Madonna. The Art for Freedom initiative is a public art project that encourages participants to submit video, music, poetry, and photography expressing the meaning of freedom and revolution. Said Madonna: “My goal is to show by the example of secretprojectrevolution my creative commitment to inspire change in the world through artistic expression. I hope my film and other submissions to Art For Freedom will be a call-to-action and give people a place to voice their own creative expression to help fight oppression, intolerance and complacency.” The BitTorrent Bundle gives content creators access to BitTorrent’s 170M users and is in its Alpha stage, with access to open further to approved creators opening wider on September 24.
BitTorrent announced today that its Bundle project will hit its next phase on September 24, when approved creators can start building their own DIY distribution campaigns on the new publishing platform. The program, still in alpha testing, eventually will allow creators to charge or collect data from users using pay gates and/or social media gates. In recent months BitTorrent’s first wave of handpicked and curated Bundle initiatives began with film and music partners like Kaskade/Ultra Music, Berklee Online (Berklee College of Music), Public Enemy, The Pixies, Corey Taylor, Jet Life, Cinedigm, Converge Studios, Fly or Die, Linkin Park, and Mickey Hart. The company says 18 million downloads have come from just 10 Bundle campaigns since May; nearly 50 percent of Bundle activity is filmed content, while BitTorrent claims a network of 170 million users. BitTorrent is experimenting with 4K content sharing, as it did recently when musician Mickey Hart released a 2-hour, 4K 268 GB concert footage feature via BitTorrent Bundle. “It’s on our roadmap,” says BitTorrent’s Christian Averill. “Nobody else is doing 4K file sharing publicly right now.”
Showtime‘s Homeland became the latest victim of online piracy today when the show’s Season 3 premiere was leaked ahead of its September 29 debut. Over 100K users of file-sharing protocol BitTorrent have pirated the episode via various piracy sites within hours of its upload, reports TorrentFreak. Homeland producer 20th Century Fox has its anti-piracy unit working on the issue. Showtime widely distributed screeners of its Homeland Season 3 premiere episode to press last month at TCA, although the leaked version is reportedly a workprint missing VFX and opening credits. A spokesperson for BitTorrent says true download numbers are not trackable on the company’s official site except to the original uploader. The company is making continuing efforts to shake its reputation as a piracy site by teaming with content creators on co-branded campaigns, most recently on Converge Studios’ TV series Fly Or Die which generated over a million legit downloads after launching last month.
How’s this for an interesting defense? File-sharing site BitTorrent insists that a recent report that HBO’s Game Of Thrones broke records for illegal downloads on BitTorrent is false — because illegal downloading is “literally impossible” on the site. “The idea of a BitTorrent ‘Piracy Record’ is a complete fabrication,” said the company on its blog. “To pirate stuff, you need more than a protocol. You need search, a pirate content site, and a content manager. We offer none of those things. If you’re using BitTorrent for piracy, you’re doing it wrong.” A June 10 report by TorrentFreak credited Game of Thrones with notching 1M downloads in 24 hours via BitTorrent. The company says their own internal numbers, tallied through their Bundle program, reveal a different record-holder: “We discovered that the real king of BitTorrent isn’t Game of Thrones. With 8,626,987 downloads, hands-down-most-downloaded show of 2013 via BitTorrent is Epic Meal Time — which was published into BitTorrent willingly and legally by the creators themselves.”
Subscription viewers weren’t the only ones who went nuts for HBO‘s Game Of Thrones season finale. According to TorrentFreak, over 1 million BitTorrent users downloaded Sunday’s single episode within 24 hours, with as many as 171.5K sharing the same file simultaneously. The HBO show is a network exclusive and not available on services like Netflix, leading to increased piracy numbers particularly overseas in Australia where episodes are delayed in airing. Last year Game Of Thrones became the most-downloaded TV show of 2012 when its second season finale notched a reported 4.3M downloads, an achievement HBO President of Programming Michael Lombardo has in the past described as a “compliment” that didn’t negatively hurt DVD sales. TorrentFreak projects that Sunday’s third season finale could top season 2′s record making Game Of Thrones again the most pirated TV show of the year.
BitTorrent seems an unlikely ally for content creators given its past association with online piracy. But the file sharing site today unveiled yet another tool designed to help media makers to connect with fans – and profit from it. Its latest initiative, the BitTorrent Bundle, introduces a “gated” multimedia torrent designed to boost engagement within its 170 million-strong user base. The format allows creators to put content on offer on BitTorrent, add supplemental multimedia content of any file format or size, and set parameters for how fans can access the bonus materials, potentially via email gate, donation, or pay gate. BitTorrent’s Bundle launches in alpha with EDM music label Ultra Music but the company hopes film and TV creators take advantage of the program as an option for digital distribution. Bundle’s gated torrent could be unlocked, for example, by driving fans to Netflix, iTunes, a movie theater, or a Facebook page for a like. The file sharing site got a huge response last month when it partnered with Cinedigm to release the first seven minutes of Arthur Newman free to BitTorrent users, even if the experiment was more of a success for BitTorrent than for the film. The promo had 1.4 million downloads with 150,000 of those downloaders subsequently visiting the movie’s website for more information.
David Bloom is a contributor to Deadline.
Cinedigm Chief Marketing Officer Jill Calcaterra said the company was delighted with the online uptake of their recent experiment with BitTorrent to promote Arthur Newman, the just-released film starring Colin Firth and Emily Blunt. Under the deal, the file-sharing site was used to distribute 10 minutes of the Cinedigm-distributed film to whomever wanted to download it. “We had 1.4 million downloads in just the first five days”, Calcaterra said today during a panel at the Digital Hollywood conference in Marina del Rey. “That was huge for this little tiny independent film”. Even more importantly, she said, 150,000 of the downloaders then went to the film’s website for more information. Of course, the deal might have attracted hundreds of thousands of possible audience members, but it couldn’t do anything about critic opinion — Arthur Newman’s Metacritic score is a rugged 42, and it made just $108K this weekend in its platform rollout in 248 theaters, a dismal $435 average.
The P2P filesharing company long associated with illegal piracy is engineering a PR facelift. On Monday BitTorrent will post the first seven minutes of Cinedigm‘s April 26 opener Arthur Newman, launching an experimental promotional partnership with the distributor that Cinedigm Chief Marketing Officer Jill Newhouse Calcaterra says will include a half-dozen upcoming releases. A romantic drama isn’t the easiest sell for BitTorrent which skews 64% male, with 40% of users aged 16-34. But 57% of BitTorrent’s users are 25-54, the film’s target demo. And BitTorrent has 170 million users according to the company. On that scale the potential reach is huge. “The average Youtube movie trailer hits tens of thousands of views in a few weeks”, says BitTorrent’s Christian Averill. “We should hit that number in downloads of the Arthur Newman content in a matter of hours”. Using BitTorrent’s “Bundle” protocol, the promotion will make available the film’s trailer and images and link to the film’s media campaign including VOD and online ticketing. BitTorrent is currently in discussions with major Hollywood studios on several other high profile summer films. But BitTorrent‘s VP of Marketing Matt Mason tells Deadline the longer-term plan is to build a direct-to-fan initiative for creators to share and monetize their own content, developing within the next 12 months.