Why BitTorrent is venturing into live video news

Those interested in following the Republican and Democratic National Conventions have no shortage of viewing options online. Among the media outlets in the press scrum at the conventions is one that you might not expect: BitTorrent.

The company, long synonymous with peer-to-peer file-sharing (and piracy), has launched a live streaming news channel with original content. Available via the BitTorrent Live app for Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, BitTorrent News is going live with 10 to 12 hours of coverage every day of the conventions. This includes streaming all of the onstage speeches in full, as well as providing commentary around the most important speeches and news coming out of the events.

Beyond the conventions, the focus will remain on politics and sports. While BitTorrent News will aim to do four hours of programming per day, an emphasis will be placed on breaking news with the channel quickly going live within minutes when necessary.

With its news and politics coverage, as well as coverage of other areas like sports, BitTorrent News will aim for an irreverent tone while covering issues that are under-covered by mainstream outlets, said BitTorrent’s vp of media Erik Schwartz. In other words: it’s the Vice approach to news content. “Some comparisons have been made [between us and] Vice News,” Schwartz admits. “But we have the ability to go live on breaking news in a way they just can’t.”

BitTorrent is quietly staffing up. It hired former CNN and Vice news executive Harrison Bohrman as its first news director. It’s Bohrman’s job to build a team and set a direction for BitTorrent News. During the presidential conventions, BitTorrent has contracted a team of six including former Al Jazeera journalists Michael Shure, James Reinl and Rita Chan to provide live and breaking news coverage. This doesn’t include guest contributors and staff from The Daily Dot, BitTorrent News’ partner for convention coverage.

“One of the nice things of doing something like this at the conventions and working with contractors is you figure out quickly who you are working with,” said Schwartz. “It’s a great job interview — three weeks of trial by fire for us.”

Having worked with musicians like Thom Yorke and media partners like the BBC and various movie studios to sell on-demand content directly to fans, BitTorrent now wants a content channel of its own. And it wants to do it live.

In May, the company launched BitTorrent Live, a streaming TV app that allows media partners to distribute live content using BitTorrent’s technology. So far, BitTorrent has partnered with smaller publishers across news, sports, music, tech and youth culture. Existing channels include conservative news outlet Newsmax and Pursuit Channel, which offers hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation content.

Between BitTorrent Live and BitTorrent News, the company is making a multi-year, multi-million dollar investment in live video, said Robert Delamar, co-CEO of BitTorrent. “It’s not a small thing we’re doing,” he said. “In addition to news, you’ll see other event-driven content coming from us very soon.”

Ultimately, success for BitTorrent will be defined not by the team it has built or even the video it’s producing, but whether there is an audience for live and breaking news from BitTorrent. The company says it has a monthly audience of 170 million global users across its network of sites and apps. According to comScore, the BitTorrent network reached nearly 11.5 million U.S. visitors in June. Downloads for popular on-demand videos and bundles available through BitTorrent Now range between several hundreds of thousands to a million.

However, two days since launch, a featured BitTorrent News bundle has been downloaded a little less than 300 times. BitTorrent did not reveal how many viewers the news channel is getting while broadcasting live on BitTorrent Live but said it will continue to cut and distribute clips on BitTorrent Now to net additional exposure for the channel.

“They’re going to have a tough time proving they have enough eyeballs — and there are so many players who are much further ahead of them,” said Eli Weisman, vp of content for ad agency Trailer Park. “If I want a trusted news source, I’ve got Reuters, CNN, MSNBC. If I want something that skews younger, I’ll go to Newsy.”

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