BitTorrent Is Not a Crime: Once a Pariah, Now Providing Distribution & Data for Music, Movies & TV (From the Magazine)

BitTorrent's VP of marketing Matt Mason in New York (Tawni Bannister)

The bundle's format has been evolving during the last year as more artists deploy it for their campaigns. For its next iteration, BitTorrent is planning to add a payment mechanism so artists can sell digital content or accept donations, VP of marketing Matt Mason says. To encourage sharing, the company wants to experiment with thresholds -- once a certain number of downloads or sales is reached on a bundle, a gate could open to give everyone access to extra content or, say, a discount for merch or tickets.

"In the old days, you had to distribute content through stores," Mason says. "With the bundle, we can put the store inside the content. Every time it's shared, artists have another opportunity to put their store in front of someone new."

There's a queue that extends into next spring to create a custom bundle with BitTorrent, which currently doesn't charge content creators while the product is being developed.

Artists also get to keep all the data they gather from the bundles, whether it's email addresses, survey data or any other information that creators want to request from users in return for access to additional content.

As a distribution platform, BitTorrent has different strengths when compared with, say, YouTube, Spotify or iTunes. Creators get to own the customer data and keep all their revenue, at least for now. But they also don't have plug-and-play access to advertising revenue that's available to YouTube or Vevo's content partners. Nor do they receive streaming royalties each time their songs are played, as with Spotify or Pandora. And though BitTorrent's audience has proved its willingness to consume content for free, it's unclear just how many can be converted to paying customers, particularly at the level of iTunes users.

For some labels, the promise of additional data is enough.

"We wanted to find out who they are, what they're doing, what they're looking for and whether we could turn them into fans," says Dan Ghosh-Roy, head of digital strategy, development and operations at Ultra Music, an independent electronic dance music label in New York that distributed a Kaskade video in May promoting the DJ's documentary release.

Within a month, the campaign drove 3.5 million people to download the promotional video through BitTorrent, 15% of whom went on to check out Kaskade's website. Ultra also gathered 175,000 new email addresses -- all from people who "double-opted in," meaning they took the extra step of adding Ultra to the "safe senders" list to ensure the label's emails don't get filtered out.

"We're tip-toeing into unchartered terrain," Ghosh-Roy says. "Whatever we learn will be a win."