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KAI RYSSDAL: If the extent of your digital downloading knowledge is iTunes and maybe Napster, you’ve got some catching up to do.Aficionados of pulling big files like movies off the web — sometimes illegally — prefer a service called BitTorrent.

It cut a deal today with Hollywood. It’ll offer some legal television and movie downloads. But the BitTorrent model could still be a technical stretch for the dinner-and-a-movie crowd. From the Marketplace Innovations Desk at North Carolina Public Radio, Janet Babin explains.


JANET BABIN: BitTorrent’s new movie service is banking on consumer convenience to make money.

Right now, consumers pay to download movies from iTunes, CinemaNow or Movielink. It can take hours, but at least then they own them. Films from BitTorrent are rentals only. They cost about $4 and expire in 30 days or 24 hours after you start watching them.

Tom Merritt at CNET says BitTorrent has speed on its side — its technology can make downloads go much faster than other sites.

TOM MERRITT: If I can download a large, popular movie fast, and that’s all I want to do is watch it, this could take off.

But James McQuivey with Forrester Research says BitTorrent can be hard to use. The encryption code on the download makes it impossible to watch the movie anywhere but your computer. McQuivey says the studios are still too controlling for the download model to succeed.

JAMES MCQUIVEY: The movie studios are gradually going to have to face the fact that they won’t make money off this digital business if they don’t start to pitch convenience.

BitTorrent says it already has a large customer base — 135 million people have downloaded its software that lets them share files for free.

Blogger Om Malik at GigaOm says a good number of those people use BitTorrent to trade pirated films. And they likely still will.

OM MALIK: Like between paying and not paying, what would you do?

Still, the company hopes to draw a new audience using YouTube’s tactics. You can post or watch your own film creation at Bittorrent.com for free.

I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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