PBS' BitTorrent Partnership
It’s ironic that PBS has signed up with BitTorrent (and Vuze, separately) to distribute its content. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, plenty of other companies have too, including 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, MTV Networks, MGM, Paramount and Warner Bros. But BitTorrent started as sort of the Napster of the video age. Now the peer-to-peer network – which hackers still use to pirate movies, TV shows and elaborate video games when they can get away with it – has moved on to become an acceptable distribution system.
"PBS is committed to making content available wherever consumers are accessing media," said Andrew Russell, senior vice president, PBS Ventures, in a statement. That’s not a particularly original concept at this point. The notion of getting consumers content anytime and anywhere they want it has far outpaced the idea of trying to bring as many people to the TV screen during one particular hour each week, mainly because TV executives are realizing that’s not how the business runs any longer.
As I’ve said before in this space — like yesterday in fact — on-demand digital is where everything is headed. John Malone told us that ten years ago when he said that “content is king.” I didn’t fully understand what he meant then, but all of us should now.
This deal is yet another illustration of what the writer’s strike is about. If all of the above companies are going to distribute their content on online platforms – BitTorrent, iTunes, Amazon Unbox, Hulu, AOL Video, Google Video, Yahoo! TV, Netflix, and the list goes ever on – the creators of that content believe they should get a piece of that revenue stream, whatever it may be. I think it makes sense for writers to strike about this now, when their contracts are up and before the whole system really gets going and they are completely cut out. The studios aren’t known for changing their profit structures once they are set, which is why writers feel they have to take this early stand.
Interestingly enough, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner – now a purveyor of Web content himself – thinks the writers should have waited until money was being made on the Web. “What I’m saying is for a current writer, for six thousand people to give up today’s money for a nonexistent piece today is stupid," Eisner asserted. “They can do it in three years. They shouldn’t be doing it now," he told Fox Business News’ Neil Cavuto at Dow Jones’ and Nielsen’s Media and Money conference in New York on Wednesday morning.
Eisner’s a lot richer than I am, but I don’t agree with him. If the writers want a piece of the Internet action, they have to set the terms now. It’s like any relationship: the terms you set early on follow you into the future, and it’s hard to alter that foundation once you’ve laid it. The fact that even PBS – a non-commercial, partially-government supported network — is into the digital distribution act just proves the point.