Ashwin Navin, co-founder and president of file sharing-software developer BitTorrent, thinks that advertising-supported content will win out over DRM (digital rights management) in the long run for movie and TV show downloads. But his company is embracing DRM as it opens a new movie download website that will compete with the Unbox store launched by Amazon and Apple's iTunes Store. In an interview he presents BitTorrent's views on DRM and its online movie store plan.
What's your view on DRM and how it will impact the movie download business?
Navin: The bottom line is that DRM is bad for the content provider and it's bad for the consumer, and the reason it's being used today is because we're in the very early stages of a new product cycle for the entertainment industry and they want to walk before they run.
I think the future will not be marked by digital rights management. It will be marked by advertising-supported content that's clear of DRM, because the content publisher wants it to be as widely distributed as possible and consumed over as many platforms as possible. And we hope to be part of that evolution, and to drive that evolution wherever we can.
How is DRM bad for content providers?
Navin: The reason it's bad for content providers is because typically a DRM ties a user to one hardware platform, so if I buy all my music on iTunes, I can't take that content to another hardware environment or another operating platform. There are a certain number of consumers who will be turned off by that, especially people who fear that they may invest in a lot of purchases on one platform today and be frustrated later when they try to switch to another platform, and be turned off by the whole experience. Or some users might not invest in any new content today because they're not sure if they want to have an iPod for the rest of their life.
When do you plan to launch BitTorrent's online movie store?
Navin: We'll launch country by country. We'll launch in the US this year. We've publicly announced that we're in trials with the largest cable company in the UK, NTL, but it's not likely we'll launch there this year.
How will BitTorrent's download site be different from others?
Navin: With the launches from Amazon and Apple, we realise we have to do something that's interesting and set ourselves apart, so one thing we're doing is leveraging BitTorrent delivery to get people their content faster, particularly for files that are popular. And we want to aggregate content that no one else is aggregating as well.
We haven't made any announcements yet, but we've aggregated Chinese language films, we've aggregated Indian language films and other – to us in the US – foreign language films, to pull together a community at BitTorrent that is really depending on us for delivering content that's not easily available, stuff that's not at Wal-Mart and all the other retail locations.
What else will BitTorrent do to make its movie store attractive?
Navin: We're also working with hardware makers to embed our technology into their hardware and then hook it into a service that people can use to get content. I'm in Taiwan to talk about partnerships with hardware makers.
Asustek Computer made an announcement on a hardware device that supports BitTorrent, a non-PC platform device made for downloads, and we expect to have many more similar arrangements with hardware companies in Taiwan and elsewhere. Hardware that supports BitTorrent protocol, obviously, can hook into our service, and people who consume it can tap into it even away from their PC.
Is the fear of illegal file sharing a threat to your business?
Navin: It depends on what the economic model is for the legitimate service. If the legitimate service is reasonably priced, if the content is good, it's been encoded properly, it's predictable in its results. As a BitTorrent user, I'm sure you know that if you're not on a well-seeded Torrent, your download speeds aren't going to be that great. You could be waiting for days for your download to complete. In a commercial environment, you can take what's great about BitTorrent, the efficiency, and combine it with a predictable user experience, make sure everything is properly seeded, make sure the peers you're talking to are close by in the network.
Everybody expects content to be delivered over the internet, it's just that we're still in the very early days today. There's a lot that needs to take place in terms of creating the environment that makes people comfortable opening their pocket books and paying for a service they find valuable. We're doing everything we can to make the service compelling, and right now its all about getting the content providers and the hardware companies to converge over the platform that we're building. I think we're going to be extremely successful.