BitTorrent's big day

BitTorrent, the San Francisco start-up that has long been considered a renegade by the movie industry, opened up a new movie store today with full backing by Hollywood studios.

The move is significant because the company’s founder, Bram Cohen created the Bittorrent protocol, a popular file-sharing program that used peoples’ computers to distribute movies across the Internet for free, and it became one of the most popular tools for pirates.

However, his company, also called BitTorrent, now aims to legalize the distribution process, and make money from it — after having put controls on the peer-to-peer technology, and augmenting its performance so that it can distribute niche content as well.

We already reported today’s announcement was coming. But now we have details (see announcement here):

Four major studios and about three dozen other publishers of video, games and software have lined up to endorse the new offering. They include 20th Century Fox, Lions Gate, MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and BitTorrent’s newest partner, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc.

It comes at a time when studios are signing deals with other companies too, including one between Viacom and rival start-up, Joost. The deals are likely to put pressure on Google’s YouTube. YouTube has dragged its heels on implementing a filtering technology to placate concerns studios have about pirated movies show up there. Reports emerged that YouTube will soon implement such technology, but the latest word is that there are “technical” difficulties. Meanwhile, YouTube’s popularity continues to surge. It has overtaken the combined traffic of all television network Web site, at 0.6 percent of all Internet traffic (compared to 0.5 percent enjoyed by 56 television cable and broadcast network sites), according to Hitwise.

BitTorrent’s digital media store promises to have about 3,000 new and classic movies. Go to the site now, and you’ll see everything from movies like “Little Miss Sunshine” to TV programming like “24″. New movies will sell for $3.99, classics will be $2.99, and tv shows, music videos and PC games will be priced at $1.99.

The content will play in Microsoft’s Windows Media Player 11 and be protected by Microsoft’s Digital Rights Management platform that will prevent the content from playing in more than one computer or to be shared elsewhere. It won’t be playable on an Apple computer or on an iPod. To watch the movies on TV, you’ll need Netgear’s Digital Entertainer and a high-definition television set (see Mercury News story here, which has comments from co-founder Ashwin Navin).

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