BitTorrent’s 170 million users are used to downloading content—including movies, music, and TV shows—entirely for free. Now, the peer-to-peer file-sharing company is wagering that people will pay for exclusive viewing rights to Children of the Machine, a sci-fi series financed and produced by independent film producer Marco Weber.
The pilot episode will be available to BitTorrent users for free, but the series will only get its planned eight-episode season if at least 250,000 people agree to sign up for a $10 bundle. Essentially, BitTorrent is creating its own version of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign.
BitTorrent technology (managed by the eponymous BitTorrent, a private company) works by setting up peer-to-peer networks that allow internet users to quickly download large files from others who already have them. The technology makes downloading pirated content extremely easy, though BitTorrent has long maintained that it does not condone piracy.
BitTorrent already offers free bundles of music, films, and graphic novels that the artists agree to provide for exposure. But in September, those will require a fee to access as well. The artists themselves will receive the majority of the profits, with BitTorrent also taking a cut. “Our goal is to make the internet a better place for creativity: to make music, film, and art more valuable each time it’s shared,” the company wrote on its blog. “For non-traditional storytellers, like Marco Weber of Rapid Eye Studios, this represents the next wave of digital media.”
The big question is whether BitTorrent’s users—which include people seeking to download things like the latest episode of Game of Thrones for free—will pay to watch content. BitTorrent is pushing the idea that people will pay for stuff they like (and have a stake in) as long as it can be accessed easily. Of course, Children of the Machine needs to be good in order for anyone to want to see more of it. But even if the show attracts the 250,000 paying viewers needed to produce a full season, what’s stopping people from pirating it just like any other show?