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BitTorrent Unveils Live TV Streaming App, Plans Paid Service for This Summer

BitTorrent is finally turning its live video streaming technology into a real product: The P2P company announced a new live TV streaming app called BitTorrent Live Tuesday, which will be available for the latest generation Apple TV as well as Mac OS computers this week.

The new app carries free live streams from a total of 13 niche programmers. BitTorrent Live VP of Media Erik Schwartz told Variety that the company also aims to get bigger cable networks on board, and offer paid subscriptions as early as this summer. “The goal is to really build a virtual MVPD,” he said.

Schwartz readily admitted that BitTorrent Live’s launch package isn’t exactly mass market fare; the 13 channels include such networks as Clubbing TV, FightBox, Newsmax TV, Heroes TV and TWiT. Some of these may reside in the three digits on cable, while others aren’t carried by traditional operators at all. However, he defended the decision to launch with less-popular fare with the fact that BitTorrent is able to offer it as a free tier, something that’s absent from other new TV streaming services. “Sling TV charges you from channel one,” he said.

Part of the reason that BitTorrent can offer free streaming is that it is using P2P technology similar to the one used by its file sharing client to distribute its streams. That way, the company doesn’t have to pay for content delivery networks, and live streams are also less likely to fail under high demand — something that regularly happens to live streamed events on other services, including a Facebook Live Obama interview this week.

BitTorrent has been working on live streaming for many years, and first started testing it on PCs back in 2011. Earlier this year, it tested P2P-based live streaming on the new Apple TV with a temporary election coverage channel. Schwarz said that media companies could use BitTorrent TV to launch similar temporary “pop up” channels without having to invest in streaming infrastructure as well.

BitTorrent TV wants to offer its first slate of paid channels this summer. This may include small bundles as well as individual channels, or even pay-per-view, said Schwarz. The biggest focus will be on content that warrants live viewing, including news, sports and events, but Schwarz said that the company may eventually do deals with the likes of HBO and AMC as well: “We will carry them, but we’re not in a hurry to carry them.”

BitTorrent TV is just the latest attempt of BitTorrent Inc. to reinvent itself as a media company. The San Francisco-based company still makes most of its money with its legacy file sharing client, but has in recent years put a bigger emphasis on other projects, including file synchronization tools for enterprise users and media distribution for musicians and filmmakers. Last month, BitTorrent announced the appointment of two new CEOs and the launch of a Los Angeles office and production space to further that transition.

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