Warner Bros. will become the first major studio to distribute its films and TV shows over the Internet using peer-to-peer technology developed by BitTorrent Inc., the home of a popular tool for trading pirated copies of movies.
The companies did not specify a date but said the service will be offered starting this summer. Pricing is also undetermined, although individual TV shows could be priced as low as $1 and movies will be sold for about the price of buying a DVD, BitTorrent said.
Warner Bros., a division of Time Warner Inc., said it will use BitTorrent's ability to speed the downloading of large computer files to rent and sell its films the same day the movies become available on DVD.
The studio also will sell permanent copies of films and TV shows online that can be burned to a backup DVD, although the copy will only play on the computer used to download the film and not on standard DVD players.
The deal is aimed at converting some of the file-sharing users who regularly seek illegal copies of films and TV shows by offering them a reliable experience at a reasonable price on the same system used by online pirates.
"If we can convert 5, 10, 15 percent of the peer-to-peer users that have been obtaining our product from illegitimate sources to becoming legitimate buyers of our product, that has the potential of a huge impact on our industry and our economics," said Kevin Tsujihara, president of the Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group.
BitTorrent uses a technique called "file swarming" to distribute large files. Rather than download a single large file from one central computer, BitTorrent assembles files from separate bits of data downloaded from other computer users across the Internet.
Studios have been discussing such deals with BitTorrent since last November, when they reached a settlement with the company aimed at reducing illegal traffic in online films.
Last year, BitTorrent agreed to remove links to pirated versions of movies from its Web site and remove online links leading to illegal content owned by the seven studios that are members of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Studios believe that offering reasonably priced legal alternatives will be preferable to downloading files that could contain viruses or poor quality copies of films.
"Those are the kinds of baby steps to offer users a good trade off, a good alternative to doing things the wrong way," said Ashwin Navin, president and co-founder of BitTorrent.
The speed of downloading a large movie file will depend on how many individual computers in the network have the file. The more computers, the faster the process.
Ideally, once a particular movie has been "seeded" on the system, Warner Bros. estimates a download could take as little as 10 minutes. TV shows could take even less time to download because the files are much smaller.