Thoughts on BitTorrent distribution for a public broadcaster

A while after we did our successful experiment with BitTorrent distribution for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation I was interviewed by the German news web site

The article is in German, but my original conversation with Mr. Wulf Rohwedder is in english. Because it reveals some of my thoughts about this project I decided to share it here:

– Peer to peer networks have a bit of an ambigious reputation, especially due to the use for pirated footage and othe rillegal content. Has there been any reservations or resistance against the project?

– Less resistance than the project initially feared. But we thought through the issues and planned the responses because we feared that other media would start screaming “the NRK use illegal pirate technology to distribute content”. So we made it very clear in the initial blog post announcing the project that BitTorrent is not by any means illegal. It is a very robust and powerful way to distribute content. So robust and powerful that it unfortunately has been the preferred distribution method for pirates.

After the announcement we can conclude that the problem of BitTorrent being the pirate’s preferred distribution method was highly overrated. No real questions about this have been raised. Seems like most journalists understand that the technology is by no means illegal.

– Will you expand the experiment to other productions?
– The experience and reactions after one week are extremely positive. It is likely that we’ll try to clear the rights for this kind of distribution of more content. But first we want to evaluate our current experiment in more detail.

– Do you fear any setbacks for the classical ways of distribution like broadcast and DVD sales?
– At this point our experience with multi platform distribution has been that success on one platform leads to success on other platforms. But BitTorrent distribution is one of our experiments trying to focus on future possibilities. In the long run traditional broadcast and DVD sales of content like this will decline anyway. It is important for us to start experimenting with new distribution methods. We don’t want to do like the music industry. Running around thinking that people will keep driving down to a record store when they can have the content delivered with the push of a button at home.

And if that wasn’t enough. BitTorrent distribution is environmentally friendly. Driving trucks full of DVDs around the country is not.

– By offering DRM-free versions of your products in a non proprietary standard you are pretty much giving up control over it – do you fear any misuse?
– If you want control of your content you need to lock it down in a vault and never show it to anyone. We gave up control of our content the day we started broadcasting. For years our most popular content have been available on BitTorrent and on sites like YouTube anyway. DRM doesn’t work. The only way to control your content is to be the best provider of it. If people want it on YouTube then you should publish it on YouTube or in a system that give the same experience. If people want it on BitTorrent then you should provide that. If you do it right people will come to your official publish point and you’ll end up with more control.

In other words, the possibility of misuse has always been there. By publishing our content the way people want it we gain control of the quality and the presentation.

– How do you settle the question of third party rights?
– That is the most difficult part and the main reason for not publishing all our productions like this. Music rights, actors, artists, format owners etc. Fortunately the managers of this particular series was very forward thinking when they started working on it two years ago. They did a very detailed contract with Lars Monsen (the hiker, main character and photographer) and avoided third party sponsors. They had all the music composed and bought completely free.

To solve this in the future we need to be better at negotiating rights when starting new projects. And we need to keep working on renegotiation of our existing content to be able to publish more from our archives.

If you have any additional information about the project we would be interested to get them, too.
– We’re a license funded public broadcaster. We need to reach the broadest possible audience with our content. Because of that we can do experiments like these without having to worry about advertising revenues. And the reactions so far have been extremely positive. Currently there are 321 comments on the blog post announcing the project. All of them positive. Comments like “Now I’m paying my license fee with joy”, “Finally a TV channel that gets it!”, “Note to BBC: This is how it should be done” and so on.

So far we’re closing in on 90 000 downloads of the torrent files. The peer-to-peer ratio on the downloads have been close to 95%. Yes, meaning that using BitTorrent saves the license fee payers 95% of the distribution cost. And giving them download times of 3-5 minutes on a 30 minute TV show in full quality.

Link to the English article about the project.

The discussion on

And the original Norwegian blog post announcing the project.

Thoughts on BitTorrent distribution for a public broadcaster

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