From the "can't beat 'em, join 'em" department: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group Tuesday said it will use BitTorrent's peer-to-peer publishing platform to distribute flicks such as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Matrix, Dog Day Afternoon, and Natural Born Killers, as well as TV shows such as Babylon 5 and Dukes of Hazzard.In the past, Warner and other mainstream movie and TV producers and music labels have ranted about peer-to-peer technologies being employed to illegally distribute their content, costing them billions of dollars in royalties. It's good to see producers such as Warner embracing, not battling, technology. In a statement announcing the deal with BitTorrent, Darcy Antonellis, Warner executive VP for distribution technology and operations, admits peer-to-peer technology is a great way to reach current and new customers and reflects "the critical role distribution technologies play in the future of the entertainment industry."
But James McQuivey, an associate professor of communications technology at Boston University, isn't that impressed with Warner's moves. "Moves like this make Warner Bros. look courageous, but let's face facts--the only reason the film industry has the guts to do this is because they learned good and bad lessons from the music industry a decade ago," he writes in an E-mail. "That if you pretend consumers don't want digital downloads and file sharing, you'll be hammered; but if you give them what they want, most of them will pay for it a la iTunes."
The prof also wonders whether Warner Bros. is scared of Disney, with its newest board member: Apple CEO Steve Jobs. "Warner Bros. and others know that if they don't jump in feet first," McQuivey says, "Steve might lock up all the innovative strategies."
Regardless of the motivation, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group president Kevin Tsujihara, told The Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "If we can convert 5%, 10%, 15% of those [illegal peer-to-peer] users to become legitimate users of our product, it can have a significant impact on our industry and Warner Bros."
That's the challenge--convincing unconverted consumers who think bits and bytes that represent intellectual property should be free to pay for the content.
Best of luck.