Since May of this year, BitTorrent has been developing its publishing service Bundles, a platform that provides a way for creators to have all the advantages of the peer-to-peer protocol while also maintaining control over their content. On September 24th they made major steps towards bringing it into the hands of every content creator by moving the platform into a closed Alpha stage. For filmmakers, access to these tools could be a real boon for certain distribution strategies, so hit the jump for No Film School's Q&A with Matt Mason from BitTorrent.
NFS: Closed alpha? How will we be approved for publishing?
Matt Mason: That’s a great question. There’s been an overwhelming response to this new publishing tool. In this early stage, our top priority is to ensure that the platform works, and meets the needs of participants. So while the list of registered applicants is big, initially, the number of those invited to participate will be small. This allows us to get, and address, program feedback. And this is critical for our development team, as we scale out the product. We’ll add seats as quickly as we can. We want to open this up to the world. But we’re placing priority on building quality, too.
In order to use Bundle, you need to have rights to the content you want to publish. That’s mandatory. Other publishing criteria is less specific. We’re interested in testing out a wide range of media, genres, and ideas to understand how Bundle can meet the needs of a diverse set of creators. We’re also looking at partners against a spectrum of experience. We want to see how Bundle can work for independent artists and established media brands. Both groups work differently. We want Bundle to work for all parties.
NFS: Once you publish, is your product shown / advertised on BitTorrent's existing channels?
Matt Mason: We’re developing a place to surface and share published Bundles within BitTorrent. It’s still in its early stages of development. And it’s something we want to shape, with input from NFS readers, the web’s creative communities, and people who give a damn about content.
The audience in BitTorrent is massive. We’ll use our web, social media, and software channels to point to artist content. That said, we have limited real estate for individual artist features and spotlight promotions. We would never be able to support the sheer volume of Bundles that way; through advertising alone.
In over two years of experimentation with creators and rights-holders, we’ve learned a lot. Our goal is to make that knowledge available to everyone. Your success isn’t dependent on BitTorrent, or YouTube, or Amazon, or a million dollar marketing budget. There are a couple of hacks that every publisher should be using. And we’ll be sharing these in an editorial series on our blog.
NFS: Up until now you've been doing hand-picked stuff. How is this going to change Bundles?
Matt Mason: Establishing the BitTorrent Bundle for Publishers Alpha opens the door for the entire world to use and take advantage of this new format. To date, our biggest problem has been trying to figure out how to work with all the people who want to work with us.
What we’re building will make access guaranteed, and publishing simple. It will also place control over content back where it belongs: in the hands of creators and rights holders. After all, you know your business better than we do.
We’ll continue to work with select partners, as we always have. But by opening the platform up to everyone, we can move it forward. There’s a wide world of creators out there who can re-imagine the technology, and the platform in ways that we can’t when we work with only a handful of people. How can file types tell a story? How does that story spread? How can content become more interaction than transaction? These are big questions. And these are the types of experiments and unknowns we can take on when we invite the world in.
NFS: Are you making an effort to curate from the mass of content you're likely to see moving through your channels?
Matt Mason: There’s no question that this will be necessary. We’re at the early stages of the build, so we welcome input from NFS readers and the creative community at large. It’s not hard to imagine groups swarming around genres, and content ranking or recommendations based on fan feedback. But that’s just the beginning.
NFS: Are there paid versions of the service planned? How will you make revenue?
Matt Mason: At this stage, our focus is making something kickass, so that we can get out of the way and let creators do what they do. There will always be a tool openly available for all to use without cost. That’s true of everything we make. Throughout the Alpha process, we’ll explore possibilities around premium services. Input from Alpha participants will help guide feature development.
NSF: What marketing benefits come through distribution through BitTorrent Bundles?
Matt Mason: Primarily: you can promote and distribute content in a way that goes with the grain of the Internet. You don’t need to take people outside of the content that they’re enjoying to send them to a digital storefront. You can put purchase-directs inside the download itself. Or, you can create an email gate that travels with the Bundle link. As humans, our instinct is to share stuff. So media that becomes more valuable each time its shared is actually a pretty powerful thing.
You also can distribute differently: in HD, in 3D, in true multi-media. As an artist, and marketer, you’re not restricted to video or album distribution. With Bundle, there are no constraints on file type or file size. It’s format agnostic. You can distribute as much content as you want to as many people as you want at zero cost.
With Bundle, you’ll get data on your content and release. And it will belong to you. You’ll also have the ability to collect email, and build an addressable audience with whom you can share work and workshop new ideas. Down the line, we’re working on building in discovery, so that Bundle publishers are more find-able and searchable within (and beyond) the BitTorrent ecosystem.
NFS: As someone who is personally very interested in distributing through BitTorrent, what edge do you feel the peer-to-peer approach really offers when it seems clear that the marketing is the biggest issue for a successful distribution?
Matt Mason: You’re right. Marketing is the biggest issue for successful distribution. Better marketing, though, is better storytelling. And that’s what Bundle is designed to do. It’s built to let you tell better stories. Because if you’re a filmmaker, in some ways: you’re a writer, and designer, and photographer, too. And inevitably, what went into your last work was more than what we saw between opening and closing credits. Give that stuff a space. Tell us the backstory.
The thing about P2P is that -- literally -- it’s people-powered. Everybody becomes a stakeholder in the shared object. That’s the idea behind P2P, and it’s the idea behind Bundle. We want to give artists the tools to make fans stakeholders, because if your fans are invested in your cause, they’ll invest more. Bundle allows you to reach out to fans directly, and because of gating and file flexibility, it allows you to connect with fans inside shared content. Not inside a store.
A special thanks to Matt Mason for answering my questions. As I said above, I'm personally really excited about these tools for my own film Menthol, for which I am currently navigating distribution strategies.
Is anybody else really looking forward to getting your hands on these tools? How would you make use of the P2P model? As Matt mentioned, they're readily seeking advice and input from other creators out there, so please share your thoughts in the comment below and we might help shape the future of the platform.