How BitTorrent Can Successfully Work As A Distribution Tool For A Public Broadcaster

3 min read

NRK LogoNRK recently took part in a very successful
with distributing the Norwegian
Broadcasting Corporation programme, Nordkalotten 365, via

A little while afterwards, I was interviewed by the German
news web site
about the process, and how this could affect distribution of similar
programmes in the future.

Although the
is in German, my original conversation with Mr. Wulf
Rohwedder is in English. It reveals some of my thoughts about this
project so I decided to
share it:

Eirik Solheim & Wulf Rohwedder Interview

– Peer to peer networks have a bit of
an ambiguous
reputation, especially due to the use for pirated footage and other
illegal content. Has there been any reservations or resistance against
the project?

– Less resistance than the project initially feared. But we
through the issues and planned the responses because we feared that
other media would start screaming “the NRK use illegal pirate
technology to distribute content”. 

So we made it very clear
in the
initial blog post announcing the project that BitTorrent is not by any
means illegal. It is a very robust and powerful way to distribute
content. So robust and powerful that it unfortunately has been the
preferred distribution method for pirates.

After the announcement we can conclude that the problem of
BitTorrent being the pirate’s preferred distribution method
was highly
overrated. No real questions about this have been raised. Seems like
most journalists understand that the technology is by no means illegal.

– Will you expand the experiment to
other productions?

– The experience and reactions after one week are extremely
It is likely that we’ll try to clear the rights for this kind
distribution of more content. But first we want to evaluate our current
experiment in more detail.

Setback For Traditional Distribution?

– Do you fear any setbacks for the
classical ways of distribution like broadcast and DVD sales?

– At this point our experience with multi platform
distribution has
been that success on one platform leads to success on other

But BitTorrent distribution is one of our experiments trying
to focus
on future possibilities. In the long run traditional broadcast and DVD
sales of content like this will decline anyway. 

It is important for us
to start experimenting with new distribution methods. We
don’t want to
do like the music industry. Running around thinking that people will
keep driving down to a record store when they can have the content
delivered with the push of a button at home.

And if that wasn’t enough. BitTorrent distribution
environmentally friendly. Driving trucks full of DVDs around the
country is not.

How BitTorrent Can Successfully Work As A Distribution Tool For A Public Broadcaster

The DRM Question

– By offering DRM-free versions of
your products in a
non proprietary standard you are pretty much giving up control over it
– do you fear any misuse?

– If you want control of your content you need to lock it down
in a
vault and never show it to anyone. We gave up control of our content
the day we started broadcasting. 

For years our most popular content
have been available on BitTorrent and on sites like YouTube anyway. DRM
doesn’t work. The only way to control your content is to be
the best
provider of it. 

If people want it on YouTube then you should publish it
on YouTube or in a system that give the same experience. If people want
it on BitTorrent then you should provide that. If you do it right
people will come to your official publish point and you’ll
end up with
more control.

In other words, the possibility of misuse has always been
there. By
publishing our content the way people want it we gain control of the
quality and the presentation.

– How do you settle the question of
third party rights?

– That is the most difficult part and the main reason for not
publishing all our productions like this. Music rights, actors,
artists, format owners etc. Fortunately the managers of this particular
series was very forward thinking when they started working on it two
years ago. 

They did a very detailed contract with Lars Monsen (the
hiker, main character and photographer) and avoided third party
sponsors. They had all the music composed and bought completely free.

To solve this in the future we need to be better at
rights when starting new projects. And we need to keep working on
renegotiation of our existing content to be able to publish more from
our archives.


If you have any additional information
about the project we would be interested to get them, too.

– We’re a license funded public broadcaster. We need
to reach
broadest possible audience with our content. Because of that we can do
experiments like these without having to worry about advertising

And the reactions so far have been extremely positive.
Currently there are 321 comments on the blog post announcing the
project. All of them positive. Comments like “Now
I’m paying my license
fee with joy”, “Finally a TV channel that gets
it!”, “Note to BBC: This
is how it should be done” and so on.

So far we’re closing in on 90 000
downloads of the torrent
files. The peer-to-peer ratio on the downloads have been close to 95%.
Yes, meaning that using BitTorrent saves the license fee payers 95% of
the distribution cost. And giving them download times of 3-5 minutes on
a 30 minute TV show in full quality.

Written by Eirik Solheim, a media industry consultant. Catch his views on enhanced TV, broadband, mobile, IPTV and more at Post is licensed under the Creative Commons.