BitTorrent Inks Deals With 20 TV Set Makers

Net-Connected Televisions Will Let Users Stream Both Legal, Illegal Video Content
Publish date:
Updated on

Consumers using Internet-connected TV sets from some 20 manufacturers will soon be able to stream video content -- including both legal and illegal material -- downloaded via embedded BitTorrent software, with the click of a remote.

BitTorrent has reached deals with 20 consumer-electronics manufacturers, according to CEO Eric Klinker. He declined to identify them.

Most of BitTorrent’s deals are for TV models that will launch -- as early as this holiday season -- in Europe and Asia, Klinker said.

“You may not see them as much in the U.S.,” he said.

That’s because for many Internet-connected HDTVs marketed in the U.S., the manufacturers already have deals with streaming-video providers such as Netflix, according to Klinker. “We are competing with the Netflixes and Hulus for space on the television,” Klinker said.

Klinker denied that CE manufacturers are wary of associating with BitTorrent because the file-sharing application is widely known to be used to access pirated content. He noted that about 2 million titles of legal content are available in the BitTorrent universe, including movies, music and books.

Asked how many illegal files are available via BitTorrent clients, Klinker said, “We have no idea. It’s like asking Chrome [Google’s Web browser] how much pornography there is on the Internet.” His point was that liability for illegal activities rests with users, as is the case with Web browsers.

Previously, BitTorrent announced a deal with Vestel, a Turkish TV manufacturer that was showing what it called “the world’s first BitTorrent certified TV” at the IFA show in Berlin last year.

BitTorrent, founded in 2004, is backed by venture-capital firms Accel Partners, DCM and DAG Ventures. According to Klinker, about two-thirds of BitTorrent’s 100 employees are engineers.

The San Francisco-based company generates revenue from advertising (through syndicated search with partners that include Microsoft Bing and; a premium, ad-free version of BitTorrent; and licensing deals such as those with TV manufacturers.

BitTorrent clients once consumed as much as 40% of global Internet traffic, but the company has seen its share of overall usage decline as video-streaming services like Netflix have taken off. In addition, the company claims, its introduction of a new protocol into the BitTorrent client -- designed to give priority to other applications -- has reduced the amount of bandwidth the application's estimated 150 million-plus users consume in aggregate.

BitTorrent's share of usage declined from 19.2% of peak-period aggregate traffic in 2010 to 12.0% in 2012, according to bandwidth-management equipment vendor Sandvine. At the same time, BitTorrent traffic increased 40% from 2011 to 2012, the vendor found. By 2015, BitTorrent will shrink to less than 10% of total traffic, Sandvine predicts.

BitTorrent and other file-sharing applications were at the center of a brouhaha that emerged in late 2007, when Comcast was accused of “blocking” the protocols of peer-to-peer applications.

The MSO said it was merely delaying P2P packets, but the Federal Communications Commission ordered it to cease the practice, as the agency said Comcast violated its open Internet principles. A federal appeals court ruled that the FCC overstepped its authority in that case but Comcast had already moved to a protocol-agnostic bandwidth management technique; separately, the FCC enacted network-neutrality rules at the end of 2011.

Klinker said that in response to the network-neutrality issues, BitTorrent implemented a new best-effort protocol in clients starting in February 2010, which senses congestion on the network. “It essentially lets BitTorrent gets out of the way of every other application,” he said.

BitTorrent, along with Microsoft, formed a working group within the Internet Engineering Task Force to document the “uTP” protocol, and the IETF has now approved the protocol as a draft, Klinker said.