BitTorrent, the company behind the peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol, has a bit of a branding challenge. Allegedly responsible for as much as a third of all Internet traffic at one point, BitTorrent is associated with piracy in the public’s imagination. But the company would like to argue that that is an unfair characterization; rather, the BitTorrent protocol is in fact an ideal marketing platform for brands and publishers.
This is the idea behind its latest pitch, anyway. BitTorrent — which is used by record labels to legally release music, broadcasters to legally distribute their shows, the U.K. government to keep its citizens informed on where their tax money is being spent — is now actively pursuing advertisers with a suite of new products with this deck:
The brand pitches its “Bundle” product as a way for artists to sell their work “without selling your soul,” and “The Internet’s own record store.”
And with 170 million active monthly users, BitTorrent is better than Pinterest, IGN and Spotify. Two-thirds (63 percent) of that user base is under the age of 34. Half (51 percent) are high school students. The deck highlights how digitally savvy this community is, with a surprising 100 percent of them “more likely” to have a paid music subscription.
“Let’s bring clarity and light to the truth,” is how Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, chief marketing officer at the company, describes it. “BitTorrent is not a piracy website. The fact is, we developed a protocol that is sometimes used for that.”
The protocol itself, even if sometimes used toward unsavory ends, is not inherently flawed. There is a critical difference between the company BitTorrent, Inc., and the open source file transfer protocol it’s named after. While true that the latter powers piracy through torrent indexing — see, most notoriously, Pirate Bay — BitTorrent the company is a separate entity that uses the file transfer protocol for legal purposes.
Christian Averill, director of communications, said that BitTorrent is, simply put, a software company that lets users download software, bundles of content (songs, movies) and sync content across devices. “Maybe it’s our fault for not doing this all along,” said Averill. “But we’re getting the story out there.”
Easier said than done.
“It is going to be a tough road for BitTorrent to convince marketers that it is a legitimate platform to do business with,” said James Fox, CEO of Red Peak Branding. But, he added, at the same time, BitTorrent is “nicely placed” in a counter-cultural position.
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“In the same way Dov Charney used Vice magazine to be the Vogue for his American Apparel, some clever brand owner may want BitTorrent to be the media placement of choice for their product or service. BitTorrent would be a great place to create buzz around a new video game or even a new album release.”
Gaming and music are precisely where BitTorrent has seen most interest, said Kaykas-Wolff. He also touts its “decentralized technology” to clients. The growing concern among consumers about privacy and data has been a boon for BitTorrent, which has long described itself as a champion of the free Internet.
BitTorrent offers a few products. Bundle, the most entrenched, lets brands and publishers package content to be downloaded by users in batches. As the deck shows, the Bundle is “built for bigger stories,” with five of 2013’s most downloaded bundles at 3 GB or more. They included work from Marc Ecko and Madonna and music by Moby.
The company also recently introduced Sync, which lets users share content across devices — not on a cloud — without limits. In July, it unveiled a chat client, Bleep, which offers, according to the company, a decentralized connection so you can send information without the risk of it being snooped on. There’s also a growing media network that has clients including Spring, Hotwire and EA. According to the company’s pitch deck, it serves 10 billion monthly impressions across video, banner and mobile ads, and boasts a two to five times return on investment versus “other marketing channels.”
Brands seem to be listening. The company recently brokered a deal with General Electric for a new campaign where a song created by Matthew Dear out of sounds from GE machines like subsea compressors and jet engines could be downloaded via the company’s Bundle. Since the launch on Aug. 27, 1.5 million people have downloaded the content. Just 30,000 people streamed it on SoundCloud, where the song was also hosted.
That work was the first sponsored Bundle at BitTorrent — the company hopes more advertisers will sign on. The brand is also launching soon paygates for content, of which they will take a percentage. Another revenue source is the company licensing its technology to other tech companies.
The company has been profitable for “years,” executives claim. But it has gone through many iterations since the protocol it was named after was created in 2001. Every time a new product is introduced, the subject of renaming the company comes up, said Kaykas-Wolff. But over time, the company realized that whenever a product had “by BitTorrent” in its name (SoShare by BitTorrent, Sync by BitTorrent) it was more popular.
“We have wonderful awareness as a brand,” said Kaykas-Wolff. “It would be nearly impossible to spend the marketing dollars to get it. So let’s just reinforce what it is, who we are, and what we do.”