Yes, the controversial peer-to-peer file-sharing network has many hurdles to overcome -- and for now it remains public enemy No. 1 for almost anyone trying to protect copyrights -- but signs indicate BitTorrent may become a legitimate vehicle for advertiser-supported content.
The file-sharing platform, unlike predecessors such as Napster, enables files to be transferred from one computer to another with relative ease and efficiency. This has made the network popular for the unauthorized trading of the huge torrent files that envelope TV shows and movies.
But in recent months BitTorrent has initiated an effort to legitimize its efficient technology. Several companies are tapping into its power, rather than trying to fight it. Director Steven Soderbergh ("Ocean's 11"), for example, recently announced plans to release his next short film using the technology. Democracy Now, an independent daily radio news program that airs on more than 350 stations in North America, offers BitTorrent distribution. Games and software developers are also using the file-sharing technology.
On the flip side, as a democratized platform, BitTorrent is giving consumers a new way to distribute their own high-quality programming in high definition. If you think podcasting or webisodes are hot now, just wait until you see MariposaHD, a high-def program produced out of Buenos Aires and distributed on BitTorrent. One of the first IPTV shows, MariposaHD is produced by four individuals with "pro-sumer" tools (tools that turn consumers into a producers) and would be impossible to distribute using conventional means. But those producers have been empowered thanks to BitTorrent.
If BitTorrent can further legitimize itself, then it could become a testing ground for high definition branded entertainment programming. Although BitTorrent files require more work to view than say videos on YouTube, the quality it offers is unsurpassed anywhere online.
Don't just take my word for it. In the spirit of writing about an open-content platform, I used my blog to solicit the online community for their opinions on the topic.
Whitney McNamara said BitTorrent will become an integrated part of our data infrastructure that's effectively invisible to end users -- but only if the content's good. Otherwise, don't bother. Others, like Bruno Ribiero, see big hurdles in security and BitTorrent's image as a haven for pirates. Both are good points.
While it remains to be seen if BitTorrent will become a legitimate mainstream channel, savvy marketers may soon start producing and releasing high-quality content on BitTorrent to solicit the feedback of a tech-savvy and influential audience. If they don't, there are plenty of pro-sumers who will. Now is the time to move.
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Steve Rubel is a senior marketing strategist and author of Micropersuasion.com, and senior VP in Edelman's me2revolution practice.