BitTorrent Launches Video Download Service

File-sharing bad-boy BitTorrent has been making rumbles about launching its own video download service, and industry watchers have been keeping an eye on developments as the company announced a stream of partnership deals with major studios like Warner Bros., Fox, Viacom, and Lionsgate and saw its estimated usership climb to more than 130 million users.

Today, BitTorrent let the cat out of the bag, announcing the its BitTorrent Entertainment Network, a video download service offering movies, television shows, music videos, and free content, with what the company is touting as the most comprehensive library of downloadable digital entertainment ever amassed on the Web. Registered users will be able to rent feature films, purchase music videos and episodes of television shows, and publish their own video to be offered alongside major studio content.

"The BitTorrent Entertainment Network is created by and for the BitTorrent Generation, which has a vast appetite for high-quality, on-demand entertainment," said Ashwin Navin, President and Co-founder of BitTorrent, in a release. " engages our community to contribute in profound ways— whether it’s by evangelizing their favorite titles; by submitting content they’ve created; or by contributing their bandwidth to enable faster downloads and an improved entertainment experience. Our uniqueness lies in the strength of our community, delivery technology, and the industry’s most comprehensive catalog of digital content."

BitTorrent’s launch partners include 20th Century Fox, Viacom (which means MTV, Comedy Central, and other major cable outlets are along for the ride), Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Home Entertainmnet, and new partner Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). BitTorrent claims to have more than 5,000 movie, TV, game, and music titles available at launch, including 40 hours of HD programming and new releases.

Some content is offered free of charge without DRM restrictions so it can be shared with others and easily transferred to other machines and devices. New movie releases may be rented for $3.99, while catalog titles run $2.99; music videos and television show episodes may be purchased for $1.99 each. Commercial content is offered using Windows Media DRM, meaning anyone wishing to purchase or rent video from BitTorrent needs to be running Windows XP SP2 or newer and Windows Media Player 10 or newer. Users may not transfer purchased or rented material to other devices like Zunes, PSPs, or iPods (no surprise there: iPods don’t support Windows DRM); however, users of Windows Media Center PCs will be able to pump video to their living room entertainment setups or to Xbox 360s set up as Media Center Extenders.

The industry will watch BitTorrent’s entry into the video download market carefully. On one hand, BitTorrent is one of the technologies powering the "darknet" of unauthorized online sharing of video, music, and all manners of other content, so the technology is widely deployed and comes with more than 130 million estimated users already set up to take advantage of the new commercial movie service. On the other hand, BitTorrent’s offerings—though numerous and including many major new studio releases—don’t strongly distinguish themselves from other online video offering in terms of pricing or capability: BitTorrent isn’t offering a tremendous deal, and the purchases are saddled with the same consumer-frustrating digital rights management technologies employed on other services, making it hard for BitTorrent to rise above the din.

Time will tell if the planned diversity of BitTorrent offerings—including music and games—as well as community features centered around user-submitted video wil help BitTorrent succeed against an increasingly crowded video download field occupied by the likes of Apple, Movielink, CinemaNow, and (uh) Wal-Mart.

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