SAN JOSE, CALIF. - BitTorrent is rolling out a service that could usher in a whole new era of television.
Beginning next month, the San Francisco video and media distribution company will offer some of its library of television and feature films — which include titles such as “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “24” — for free as streaming videos, supported by advertising.
While it’s too early to know how consumers will respond to the new service, it and similar offerings on the way from Bit-Torrent rivals point to a potential revolution in how consumers access television and movies.
That’s because the services are a lot closer to traditional television than previous Internet video offerings, making it more likely viewers will adopt them, the company hopes.
Instead of having to pay for shows and wait 30 minutes or even hours to download them — like they might have to do with videos from iTunes, say — users will be able to watch them right away at no cost.
Internet-delivered video services such as BitTorrent’s have largely been viewed as complementary to existing cable and satellite television services, supplementing them and reaching consumers who don’t subscribe to these services.
But some analysts say offerings such as BitTorrent’s could eventually replace cable or satellite television.
“It’s inevitable that the traditional broadcasting infrastructure will be replaced by (Internet) infrastructure that’s on-demand,” said Aram Sinnreich, managing partner of Radar Research, a consulting firm that works with media and technology companies.
For all its revolutionary potential, BitTorrent’s service will begin modestly. The company plans to quietly roll out the service starting with its top 10 titles.
The company doesn’t plan to officially launch it until sometime in the third quarter, but eventually it plans to offer all of the 10,000 videos in its library as streams.
Meanwhile, BitTorrent will be experimenting with how to incorporate advertising into the videos, which will be embedded in Flash windows inside Web pages. In addition to ads offering consumers the option to buy a download of the video, the company plans to test watermark logos, as well as showing commercials before, after and during the videos.
BitTorrent’s streaming service is only the latest development in the fast-moving world of digital video. Start-up Joost is already testing a similar streaming service with video from CBS, Sony pictures television and other providers.
Netflix got into the game earlier this year with a service that allows subscribers to watch streams of movies on their PCs rather than having a DVD sent to their house. Vudu of Santa Clara, Calif., is testing a service that would bypass PCs and stream rented or purchased movies from the Internet directly to a proprietary set-top box.
And that’s not to mention the Web sites of major networks such as ABC and NBC, which stream recent episodes of many of their current television shows through their Web sites.