Under the terms, the Time Warner-owned studio will use BitTorrent software to distribute movies and TV shows online. The service is slated to launch over the summer and will charge from $1 for classic TV shows, such as "The Dukes of Hazzard," up to the full price of a DVD rental for movies, such as "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and "Natural Born Killers."
The age of digital media sampling and experimentation is creating unlikely bedfellows. BitTorrent, of course, has in recent years been the bane of the Motion Picture Association of America because its compression technology allows online users to pass around -- illegally -- full-length feature films, as well as TV shows and other video content. The MPAA has pegged piracy as a $2.3 billon problem in 2005 and $6.1 billion overall. (For the record, BitTorrent does have a few legitimate uses as well: passing around open-source software and the like.)
Under the terms of the Warner Bros. deal, users will visit Bittorrent.com to download software and choose from a library of the studio's offerings. Warner Bros. hopes to prevent users from passing files illegally by requiring them to enter a password before watching a file and adding digital rights management that allows the file to only reside on the computer.
Warner Bros. is turning out to be one of the more progressive studios as the industry struggles to look outside its current, fading business model. Its TV studio was the first to ink a digital distribution deal with AOL's In2TV. (Though corporate siblings, AOL and Warner Bros. executives said they were not coerced into the deal but rather each saw the potential benefit of partnering with the other.)
Most recently the TV studio has announced a plan to give cable networks and station affiliates digital distribution rights for some of its syndicated content ,starting with "Two and a Half Men," which goes into off-network syndication in 2007. Under the deal, stations and cable nets will be able to stream five episodes a week on their Web sites, plus supplemental content such as outtakes, bloopers and cast interviews. The studio will split the online inventory 50-50.