Josh Bernhard and Bracey Smith, two filmmakers based in New York City, got to experience BitTorrent's geyser of user interaction when they uploaded the pilot episode of their science fiction show Pioneer One onto the network. The two had used Kickstarter to raise a shoestring budget of $7,000 to create the pilot, and they didn't originally intend to make any additional episodes -- the pilot was meant to simply act as a "proof of concept."
But when the episode was featured on Vodo.net, a curator of BitTorrent content, they received $20,000 in PayPal donations in only two weeks.
"We sort of realized that we had the means to keep on making more and finish the season," says Bernhard. They eventually raised enough money to shoot six episodes with the help of about 4,000 individual donations, he says.
But the success was so sudden, and the demand so overwhelming, that the filmmakers didn't have time to plot out the season in a way they would have wanted.
"The problem was we were slowly picking up money and releasing the series over a year and a half," Bernhard says. "And that made people really frustrated, because even though they were longer episodes than your typical web series -- we were aiming for an hour long length, so each episode was between 33 and 45 minutes -- most people were used to regular schedules of five minute episodes, and we often had a two or three month delay between episodes."
But he also sees how this completely changes the dynamic for independent filmmakers.
"We got to a place where we knew whatever we did, we had an opportunity to get it seen by at least hundreds of thousands of eyeballs. And coming from the independent film world, that's kind of staggering. Because the problem used to be how do I get it seen, how do I find someone who has the reach and the means to get it out there and be seen by a lot of people?"
Given that BitTorrent has proven that it can catapult content in front of millions of paying customers, the question now is how it can scale that success. The financial ascendancy of companies like Google and Facebook stems not only from their ability to amass millions of users, but also their technological capacity for delivering millions of ads to micro-targeted communities within their networks. With BitTorrent moving more information a day than Facebook, Google, YouTube, and all other websites combined, it must devise an avenue for any artist or company, not just the few anointed by its partnership program, to reach potential customers. Mason says that this will be the main focus of the company in 2013, and whether the entertainment industry makes amends with BitTorrent hinges on it effectively converting its millions of users into paying customers -- either through the purchasing of content, merchandising, or concert tickets.
"I'm in no way pro piracy," says Fiebach of Fame House. "I'm pro music promotion and pro artist. I've done three campaigns [with BitTorrent], all of which I've seen benefit artists. If they can keep figuring out how to do that, and they can scale it, then I'm all for it. If they can't and people are using it for piracy, then I'm not."
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Corrected on 02/11/13: An earlier version of this article misidentified Matt Mason’s title and BitTorrent’s platform.