BitTorrent Is Making a Sci-Fi Show About a Techno Future Where We Use BitTorrent

'Children of the Machine,' a BitTorrent original, is set to be the company's first user-funded project—assuming it crowdfunds enough cash.

Jul 15 2014, 4:49pm
Image: 'Children of the Machine' promo via BitTorrent

BitTorrent, the company made famous by its peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol (and its usefulness for downloading free music and movies, legally or otherwise), has decided to experiment with new models of charging for content: crowdfunding and paywalls.

Children of the Machine, a new sci-fi series, is set to be the company’s first user-funded project—assuming it rakes in enough cash.

The show will be funded by BitTorrent users and aired on the BitTorrent site. Your thoughts may spring to Netflix, which recently started producing original content available only on Netflix, with much success. It didn’t take long for Amazon and YouTube to follow suit, and now the internet's favorite torrenting site.

“People looking at this are saying this is BitTorrent's House of Cards moment,” Matt Mason, BitTorrent's chief content officer, told me. “In a way it is, but it's a very different idea.” Indeed, it's less like Netflix and more like Kickstarter.

If you’re an avid torrenter, it may take a while to digest the idea of paying for content at all. BitTorrent wants to change that. The company's ‘Bundle’ venture is “a self-publishing platform, where people can directly access their fans, directly monetize their own content, and retain ownership of that content,” Mason explained. BitTorrent Bundle will now be adding a paywall; the artist decides the value and the company gets 10 percent.

The idea is to have the fundraising process, distribution, and ultimately enjoyment of that series or film is all in the same place—or “ecosystem” as Mason phrased it.

It revolves around a “huge technical glitch” and will present a world affected by developments in artificial intelligence made between now and 2031.

It’s a “good way to crowdfund a pilot, a series or a piece of music, or a book project, in a way that is linked very directly to that consumption that final piece of content,” he said.

As you may have guessed, sci-fi genre was chosen as guinea pig in part because of BitTorrent's predominantly young, male audience. But after Children of the Machine, assuming it’s a success, anything could be funded and published on the platform.

“It shouldn't be up to any middle man what gets made and what people see,” Mason said. “It should be up to creators and fans.”

The pilot for Children of the Machineproduced by Marco Weber and written by him and Jeff Stockwell, will be released in December for free, and the rest of the series will be made if 250,000 users pay the fee.

As for the plot, Weber divulged a few details. It revolves around a “huge technical glitch,” and will present a world affected by developments in artificial intelligence made between now and 2031.

Along with this, Weber wants to talk about human interactions have changed in recent history because of technology, and BitTorrent technology is also somehow in the series. “That wasn't our idea,” Mason assured me. “It's not like a bad product placement.”

This show, it is hoped, will resonate with at least some of the 170 million BitTorrent users, enough to get them to part with their cash to support the project.

As for why it's been hosted on BitTorrent, “We want to build community while we are shooting and producing the pilot,” Weber said, and once it's released, “there's nothing to stop a hundred other people uploading all kinds of pilots, then asking for money,” according to Mason.

So will BitTorrent users actually shell out for online content? The New York Times pointed out that BitTorrent has tried to charge for content in the past with little success; that was due to the company asking too much for products, according to Mason. And BitTorrent does already charge a subscription fee for its 'Plus' programme, which gets rid of ads, amongst other perks.

In any case, the idea of a crowdfunding platform that’s intrinsically linked with how the final product is distributed is an interesting one, and probably not going away. Beacon is doing it with journalism, and Kickstarter with just about anything. Can BitTorrent be the one to crack crowdfunded entertainment?