• Sophie Boudet-Dalbin

    Docteur en sciences de l'information et de la communication (SIC) de l'Université Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas, je travaille sur la distribution des contenus numériques.

    Ma recherche doctorale, pluridisciplinaire, est une étude prospective qui vise à trouver des solutions concrètes pour la distribution des films par Internet, en mesure de dépasser les stéréotypes et de réconcilier les motivations et contraintes des divers acteurs économiques, créateurs, publics internautes et entités nationales.

    Doctor in Information and Communication Sciences at the University Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas, I focus on digital content distribution.

    My PhD, multidisciplinary, aimes at finding concrete solutions for digital distribution of films, that would outreach stereotypes as well as reconcile the motivations and constraints of the various economic actors, creators, audience, Internet users and national entities.

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    When P2P Gets Work in Hollywood

    On Monday, it was possible to download movies legally on the BitTorrent Web site. The company finally succeeded in convincing the Hollywood studios of its sincerity, in return however for some concessions. Supply of digital film distribution doesn’t seem ready to adjust itself to demand just yet.

    The online media store offers around 3,000 movies legally available for purchase, coming from 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Warner Brothers and MGM. New releases cost $3.99, while older movies like « Reservoir Dogs » cost $2.99. Once the films are on the personal computer, they expire within 30 days of purchase or 24 hours after the buyer begins to watch them. BitTorrent only rents movies; it doesn’t permit users to buy outright digital copies. The studios wanted to charge prices that would be too high for most consumers.

    BitTorrent’s big advantage lies in its speedy downloads. This peer-to-peer (P2P) technology introduced by Mr. Cohen in 2001 allows a single file to be broken into small fragments that are distributed among computers. To be efficient, there have to be many users connected. The more people are downloading, the more people are sharing. In its last press release the company said the user base number was 135 million. It is still not sure if the previous users, accustomed to using BitTorrent to obtain free pirated movies, would be willing to pay for this new formula en masse. Having fewer customers would then reduce the comparative advantage of BitTorrent with regard to its competitors.

    The market of film distribution through the Internet is starting to take shape. Some video on demand (VOD) Web sites offer movies to rent and buy (Amazon Unbox, Movielink), with subscription fees (MovieFlix, Vongo) and with the possibility to burn a DVD (CinemaNow). Some other sites are more online stores with proprietary systems and devices (iTunes Store, Xbox Live Marketplace). Then, some hybrid actors (Blockbuster, Netflix) propose online subscribtion, renting and buying of DVDs, but with postal distribution. Finally, some video sites offer user-generated content (like the now-famous YouTube), with some professional content for buying or renting (Google Video). Thus, there are various business models. However, BitTorrent and its rivals all face the same challenge: they must get consumers to look at this as a better and more reliable way to watch a movie as compared to renting a DVD. There is also the illegal economy in pirated video content, whose size dwarfs that of the legal online media stores.

    But then, how to convince people used to snatching up files off the Web with virtually no DRM and at no cost, to choosing among a vast programming, to reading the videos on any terminal and to exchanging them freely with peers? According to BitTorrent, 34 percent of its users would pay for content if a comprehensive, legal service were available. Some problems lie nevertheless in the way. The DRM imposed by the majors allow the film to be watched on only one computer. It is not possible to transfer the file through the Internet, to another PC or even a portable device. BitTorrent and its partners would probably explore DRM-free options. But nothing is done yet. What is more, the programming poverty, the absence of public-work mediation, the lack of free content, lead one to think that supply did not really try to understand demand.

    BitTorrent, however, successfully innovated by using the P2P network in a paradoxal way to propose a legal offer, as Peer Impact has done since August 2005. Even if companies not affiliated with BitTorrent continue offering pirated movies via versions and Web sites of this open source software, the firm wants to gain respectability and to sell the technology to other media stores and to the studios themselves. Indeed, it can help content companies transmit big files for significantly less money on a cost-per-basis than other content delivery companies.

    The studios hope the new system will put a dent in the illegal trading of their content. What’s most important is to participate, isn’t it? We will now see if the public follows.

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