Media Morph: BitTorrent

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What it is: This peer-to-peer network publishes free download lists of current TV and movies. Its huge global following has led some to call it the Napster of online programming. According to its own billing, BitTorrent gives its users "freedom to publish."

Who's running it: Created by programmer Bram Cohen, the company's mantra is "free speech no longer has a high price." The company is based in San Francisco.

Motto: Corporate T-shirts for sale on its site read: "Give and Ye Shall Receive."

Is it legal? Good question. The Motion Picture Association of America doesn't like it. Last year it targeted the people who run the infrastructure for the network and that put pressure on some of BitTorrent's hubs. According to a description of the company in Wikipedia, BitTorrent appears to be the most popular peer-to-peer protocol adopted for legal uses such as easing bandwidth strain on software developers' servers.

Why you need to know about it: Talk about consumer-controlled media. As Google, Yahoo and AOL race to make video pacts with big broadcast networks for snippets and previews of TV shows online, BitTorrent is already there providing file sharers around the globe with as much programming as their pipes can handle.

Top 10 shared shows, globally: "24," "Stargate Atlantis," "The Simpsons," "Enterprise," "Stargate SG-1," "The O.C.," "Smallville," "Desperate Housewives," "Battlestar Galactica" and "Lost."*

Does it have any rivals? Other peer-to-peer networks include FastTrack, Gnutella, eDonkey and Ares. According to U.S.-based Media Sentry, a peer-to-peer security firm, such sites have almost 3 million users each a quarter.

Why should you care? According to a Magna Global report on such peer-to-peer services, marketers can run trial versions of their software for free; classic commercials might be placed on the networks for free distribution while branded-entertainment content might be spread virally. Conventional sponsored messages might be embedded at the beginning of TV shows.

*Source: Envisional study, February 2005

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