TV Show Released On BitTorrent Raises $20,000 Pretty Damn Fast

from the but-there-are-no-business-models dept

You may have seen the recent stories about the “TV show” Pioneer One that was made with the plan all along to release the show on BitTorrent, and to set up a tiered system to fund future episodes. While some people insist that BitTorrent users never download authorized content, after the show was released, it quickly became a top download beating out lots of more “famous” competitors. On top of that, it appears that people are donating. Zubin Madon alerts us to the news that in just about a week, the producers of the show have hit their goal of raising $20,000 to produce the next batch of episodes. This isn’t a “give it away and pray” sort of deal. It’s a recognition that the first episode is the “pilot” and the scarcities that are being sold are the creation of more episodes. This is one of the more complicated scarcities for people to understand: content, once created and released to the world, is infinite. However, content not yet created is scarce. So it’s a perfectly reasonable business model to try to sell the creation of new content, which is exactly what the producers here have done successfully.

And, to cut off the expected usual crew of Hollywood defenders in the comments, no I’m not saying that all TV shows/movies/etc. should or could be funded this way. And, yes, $20,000 is definitely a very low budget. But it is an example of this sort of model working, and there’s certainly no indication that it can’t or won’t scale.

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Comments on “TV Show Released On BitTorrent Raises $20,000 Pretty Damn Fast”

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Anonymous Coward says:

…and how long will the people continue to donate? are they willing to pay $20 or $30 an episode? wait, isnt that the shiny plastic disc model?

how long before the few donating realize they are the suckers paying for everyone else entertainment and stop doing it? will they donate more than once?

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

(Hello Coward… why is it always the cowards with the thoughtless venom?)
The real question in your statement is “How many people are donating, and on average how much are they donating?”
The answer, which is obvious via execution, is “enough to pay for more shows.”
How many more shows will there be?
I suppose that depends upon how good the future episodes are and how many people donate because of it.

(duh. Stupid coward. Hey wait a minute, I’ll bet that’s not even your real name!!)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“The answer, which is obvious via execution, is “enough to pay for more shows.”” – sorry, but this is not correct. the only clear thing is enough for one more show. that is on the face of something new that has gotten a bunch of coverage. did they get all the money that there is to get? did a single person donate 20k? is it all a made up story to make it appear that it has happened? maybe they only got $10, but already had the cash to make the next one, and are trying to ‘streisand effect’ there way to the top?

i would say that a smart man like you would actually think past the end of the techdirt pap and consider the possibilities.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Do you have any reason to doubt the numbers” – yes. no disclosure of number of donations made. if they got $20,000 $5 at a time, they would be crowing about how many people donated. they are not. the amount of downloads is also remarkable (and if true, a clear indication of the widespread potential for damage on other material that violates copyright).

the numbers are also pretty weird: 450,000 downloads, and at $5 a donation, they would be getting 1 in 4000 downloaders to donate. that is a pretty high number overall, especially with the minimum donation being a fairly high amount (close to the average radiohead claims they got for their album download).

what is more likely is that they either got a few very large donations, or spiked the donation pile up front to make it look like they were getting more donation money, to try to encourage donations. it is sort of like putting some money in a tip jar to start, so people know to give a tip.

the other part of course is “is the sustainable”? the cute factor of doing it once is nice, but are people going to routinely shell out for more episodes? will that 1 in 4000 people be willing to be a sucker for everyone else to watch for free?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The list of supporters for the first round:

Others will be credit in the show if they have donated more than $100.

And there is a button there that says “donate anything” so is not $5 minimum.

“the other part of course is “is the sustainable”? the cute factor of doing it once is nice, but are people going to routinely shell out for more episodes? will that 1 in 4000 people be willing to be a sucker for everyone else to watch for free?”

Time will tell, but if even the bastards from the entertainment industry can find suckers that still pay them I’m pretty sure that those folks there will find people to pay them also.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Who cares who made the donations, the point is that the business model is sustainable. Perhaps they’re not interested in collecting money from each person that downloads, why should that matter.

As far as sustainability, considering they don’t have access to any monopolized broadcasting spectra (thanks to our broken government) or monopoly controlled cable channels (again, thanks to government regulations) I would say this is pretty good. Now imagine if they had a level playing field if the government didn’t force an unlevel playing field on them in favor of the status quo. The only reason their success is limited is exactly because of the undesirable government granted unlevel playing field they must overcome.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

“Who cares who made the donations, the point is that the business model is sustainable. Perhaps they’re not interested in collecting money from each person that downloads, why should that matter.” – wow, two wild points here.

first, the donations are important. if the bulk of the money comes from one guy (say mark cuban gives $19,950, and one other guys mother gave the other $50) then there is no indication that the model works. in fact, fronting it this way would be someone dishonest.

second, and just as important, a single event is not a sustainable model. a sustainable model would be when they have about 100 shows in the can, have done this process over and over again, and have always seen similar results. until then, it is a nice one off, similar to the old radiohead ‘give what you like’ model, which remarkably they have not gone back to. for something to sustainable, it has to be able to be repeated over and over again. there is none of that here.

Spaceboy says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

“Second, and just as important, a single event is not a sustainable model. a sustainable model would be when they have about 100 shows in the can, have done this process over and over again, and have always seen similar results. “

Wrong. It will be proven sustainable when they have ended their story, however many episodes that takes. Their current batch of funding is only coming through donations. When the season or series is done, they will most likely release it via Netflix and DVD/Blu Ray. The money from that can be used to fund the next season or even a different show altogether.

If they have say, 10 episodes in mind to tell their story, and they make them all and break even, then it’s a success. The model works, but you do need good content. And to me, Pioneer One is good content. And this little endeavor has proven that you DON’T need Hollywood to get your content widely distributed.

One of the great unwashed... (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: wow, just here to argue...

and not even do a little research, aren’t you..

They used Kickstarer to fund the pilot show:

For the initial episode:
122 Backers
Pledged $7,485
With the goal of $6,000

Yes, the initial backers may have been friends and family. (then again, they may not have been)… but so what, people put up money on this and may not get anything back other than the right to say they funded the pilot episode.

If you visit the Vodo websight you’d see that
in a week and a half they’ve raised $21,166 (the goal was $20k). These donations will fund the next THREE episodes.

Filming on the next three episodes is currently scheduled to start in September 2010.

Techdirt had a nice little video up a few weeks ago about what motivates creative people, see if you can find it. The 10 minutes it took to view it was time well spent (in my opinion at least).

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

how long before the few donating realize they are the suckers paying for everyone else entertainment and stop doing it

People will donate because they want it to happen – why should they care if someone else benefits too. People are not as selfish as you make them out to be. What a dismal opinion of humanity you have.

Relying on donations is a well established model – and if what you are offering is really good you don’t even have to ask. See

How long can this last? Well the Monastery of St Macarius has been there like that for 1600 years. It is the 2nd oldest institution continuously operating on the same site in the world (the oldest is the (similar) monastery of St Anthony a few miles up the road!)

Spaceboy says:

Re: Re:

Wow, you are an idiot. People can donate what they think it’s worth. I don’t care what other people donate to Pioneer One, and it doesn’t matter. Seriously, do you stop donating to your local church, fire department, local charity or whatever because others in your community don’t donate at all? Why the fuck do you care what your neighbor does? Personally, I don’t care. I liked Pioneer One and donated a few bucks to it. It was good. Period.

You need to get over the fact that the Hollywood establishment isn’t required for good ‘TV’ anymore.

SomeGuy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m not sure why those who choose to pay are suckers. That is to say, you would have me believe that I could choose to not-pay and still enjoy the same benefits — but that ignores the fact that if EVERYONE chooses to not-pay, the show dies. It’s foolish for me to consider whether others are unable or unwilling to pay for new content — if I want to see more, then best I can do is donate what I’m willing and able to pay. How does that make me a sucker?

lavi d (profile) says:


The reason why many consider these things impossible is people’s blind resistance to change.

Record labels made tons of cash off vinyl, tapes and CDs. Broadcasters raked in dough from commercials. The movie studios banked billions off VHS and DVD.

Now that those avenues have been narrowed by technological advances, many people (outside of those industries, even) can’t imagine things being different.

Just because you made money in one way for decades doesn’t mean you can continue to make money that way.

Much of this would be simply amusing if it were not for the constant, dangerous attempts by these blind people to use government to force things back to the way they were.

Anonymous Coward says:

“how long before the few donating realize they are the suckers paying for everyone else entertainment and stop doing it?”

You mean like people realized they were paying for coke parties, Paris Hilton life styles for people who don’t really deserve it?

Yah it could happen. But if the entertainment industry keeps finding people who still pays them after all they done, I’m sure that those folks over there will find other that will give them money too with the thing being those people want feel guilty about it and can proudly say they are not feeding monsters.

Chryss says:

The real potential of this model is programming dictated by the people instead of unreliable Nielsen models. People vote for what they want to see continue – instead of being forced to pay for 100s of shows they think are rubbish just to continue seeing the few shows we like. Think of the fantastic shows – Firefly, for example – that might have survived this way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Don’t forget that donations are only part of the equation, there is also, target advertisement to be made, ancillary merch and things that I don’t remember right now. That is where salary bonus will come from the public is willing to pay for production costs and probably won’t care what they make on the side at least I don’t care.

Richard (profile) says:

This is one of the more complicated scarcities for people to understand: content, once created and released to the world, is infinite. However, content not yet created is scarce.

Personally I think that this model is the ultimate destiny of most content financing – but it will take a while for people (on both sides of the deal) to get used to the idea. The mechanisms for enabling need some work too.

Frustratingly there is a role here for the old middlemen in spotting and developing new talent and ideas. They would need to be somehow “commissioned by the public” to do it and at present they don’t seem to have the right mindset.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually, if you think about it, the TV and movie studios already operate on a variant of this system. It’s called ‘ratings’. If they (think they) get enough people watching, they make another series/sequel. If not, they cancel.

Except when they are so dumb they cancel a good series, or make a crap sequel no-one wants. Hopefully this method will be somewhat less clunky.

Anonymous Coward says:

“While some people insist that BitTorrent users never download authorized content…”

I do not know of anyone, even diehard “maximalists” as they are often called, who say this. What they do say it that at the present time the download of authorized content pales in comparison with that of unauthorized content.

RD says:

Re: Re:

“What they do say it that at the present time the download of authorized content pales in comparison with that of unauthorized content.”

Well…DUH! When virtually NOTHING is offereed as an “authorized download”, then OF COURSE the unauthorized will outnumber it. Sheesh. And then add in, when you have things that arent even available AT ALL in ANY “authorized” form, then where the hell do you think people are going to turn to get them?

Anonymous Coward says:

“And, yes, $20,000 is definitely a very low budget. But it is an example of this sort of model working,”

I love bittorrent.

But you are living in an absolute dreamworld if you think any producer will see this as a success.

One should also note that Pioneer One is a horrible piece of shit experiment. I dare anyone to get more than 10 minutes into it without gagging up what they had two meals ago.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

They donated 20K because they believe in the experiment. I doubt the next one will break 10K
I doubt the next “Indie” games bundle will be as successful, either.

And I support the experiment, I just think the show itself was very content weak and not what I would have deemed a success for a new era in entertainment.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Why do you state this as though it’s a fact? The pilot had already been funded through donations (through Kickstarter) and this raised more than 3 times the money raised that time. Now that it’s not just a one-off, it should gain a larger audience and so gain more funding next time.

The jury’s out, of course, but it’s dumb to just dismiss it now.

As for content, like I said that’s your opinion. If the people actually paying for it are satisfied, why does your opinion matter?

ECA (profile) says:


to release a MOVIE to the net..
To get nit torrent users to Download it..
Then to pay for it?..

1 it was a NEW show? A pilot..ok.

Understand something here.
TV/CABLE/SAT are only distribution systems.
you have to GET them to SHOW your movie, or YOU PAY for the time(lots of money)..
So they created their OWN distribution. They DIDNT need to get an OK from the TV/CABLE/.. They didnt PAY to Broadcast the show..They have gotten MONEY without Paying for the service or ADVERTISING.

The Downloaders get the Movie WHEN and WHERE they want it. FAST access, and you can watch it in about 1-2 hours, or AT YOUR LEISURE..

What is the DOWNSIDE for the customer getting an UNRELEASED TO TV/CABLE/SAT/THEATER movie?? Tons.

What is the UP SIDE to the TV/CABLE/.. corps..A lesson.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Premise

That’s just it, it’s not fair that the government grants monopoly power over broadcasting spectra and cableco infrastructure and that those who have control of this monopoly almost only distributes content that a very small group of entities hold the copyright to (ie: the MPAA or RIAA). It’s unfair to individual artists and it’s unfair to the rest of the economy who want to compete in a level playing field that they must overcome a government sanctioned unlevel playing field against their favor. It’s unacceptable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Premise

and if you compound that with the fact that small restaurants who want to play independent music, with the copy protection holders permission of course, must face expensive lawsuits by irrelevant collection societies under the pretext that they “might” accidentally play infringing content, it really gives independents a very very unlevel playing field to overcome destroying the economy for everyone but the status quo. It’s simply not fair or ethical, our legal system needs to correct these problems.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Premise

“Jamendo and Magnatune both have free asscap music and even give you certificates for that purpose.”

Do they have a toaster? (easy to install one disk linux build for downloading and playing music) Because the combo of both the services and the music toaster would cause a real takeoff in the use of these services.

xxx note/entry) suggest this to Jamendo and Magnatune if they dont have it already

out_of_the_blue says:

Even *bad* art can be worthwhile, besides fun.

Making almost anything of your own is far better than the carping critics above, who have the souls of accountants and see only dollars as merit. The cheaply made sci-fi of the 50’s and 60’s is still sought by fans of the genre, and though most of it is awful, there are gems here and there that big productions just don’t have. — Okay, most are unintended laughs.

Anyway, surely these people will involve their audience in contributing plot lines and dialogue — it’s an obvious step, somewhat as Techdirt does — and on that basis, this could take off. They’ll need to find a balance between that input and what fits into the story line (rather than the random veering of comments here), but on other hand, ideas are always in short supply for writers.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Actually they could ....

Become corporate sell outs ….

“And, yes, $20,000 is definitely a very low budget. But it is an example of this sort of model working, and there’s certainly no indication that it can’t or won’t scale.”

Raising $20,000 for a couple shows is poor way to finance this show. They could Embedding advertising like the Sci-Fi show Eureka did with Degree antiperspirant, have the actors wear Vintage Coca Cola Tee shirts or Hats, or do the Will Smith thing like in iRobot with the converse allstars, or even go to degree.

Ways to capitalize the show

1) embeded advertising
2) iTunes, Amazon, etc video sales and downloads
3) NetFlix, et al, streaming services
4) DVD’s sales (while this lasts)
5) Per show licensing for broadcast TV and cable
6) Merchandising items from the show

Anonymous Coward says:

Not Just Funding More Shows

I can’t believe no one else has brought this up.

The donations are not just funding the next three shows.

A $5 donation gets you the opening sound track.

A $10 donation gets you the sound track and deleted scenes.

A $25 donation gets you both of the above and a directors commentary track.

A $100 donation gets you the above and your name in the credits of a future show.

Yes I could have probably downloaded those illegally, but that’s not the point, is it?

If they do the same thing for future sets, I will probably donate another $25 then as well.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not Just Funding More Shows

The thing is, I buy the sets of my favorite TV shows too, for just that reason, to get the bonus features and commentaries. I could watch all 10 seasons of SG1 on hulu (again) or I can watch them, and the deleted scenes, and the commentaries on my favorite episodes with my box set.

The added content and value is what gives me the reason to buy, not just that it exists.

darryl says:

Pre-paid pay for view

And you dont even know what you are going to get, the only indication of quality is the pilot, and that is no indication that the rest of the shows will be any good.

$20,000, that might pay for a camera, or some of the insurance, but it is not any where near an indication of success.

What is there to insure that if we donate that something will be produced ? Ie, that they dont just pocket the money and go on holls ?

How many people downloaded the program, as a ratio to how many people payed money ?

That would be a specific ratio, and would be a good indicator of possible future success.

As those figures are not announced, I can only assume the ratio of downloaders to freeloaders is very hight.

Remember “the simpsons” epesode there Homer was watchnig a brittish comedy of PBS, and they would not show the end of the program until a certain amount of donation were received.

If you think that is a good way to do something I cant agree.

What happens when news gets like that, will be find news (and techdirt) creating stories with the specific bias that its readers appear to respond too ?

Or would you remain objective and balanced without the influence of all those lobbyists trying to shape you show ?

I noticed that on the failed Boycott Novell web site, Roy is asking his readers what ‘stories’ they would most like to hear about. As if the popularity of the ‘news’ overrides the actual news.

This is the tail wagging the dog, the reason why these system do not work, is simply, they do not work.

So when cuban says we did not get enough money to make another show, and we cant give all that money back, so we will just have to keep it !!

(thanks for the cast,,,,, suckers)..

The eejit (profile) says:

Re: Pre-paid pay for view

Yes, some people WILL actually just download it and not give anything back. But that fact that the makers have raised $25,000 ($6k for the pilot, $20k for the next three episodes).

And before you even THINK of making a reference to that silly cartoon, consider this; the makers are effectively ransoming their work, so that they can continue. Is it sustainable? Probably not. But the fact that they’ve got this far is saying a lot in a world where, “you must know this list of corporate entities to join our gravy train.” is the content industry standard.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Pre-paid pay for view

Damn darryl. You are either paranoid, or work for the TV studios and are afraid this sort of business plan will work and take off. Maybe both.

The reasons I can see this worrying people in the TV and movie industries are …

1) It shows that TV and Movies can be made for under 2 million dollars an episode and under 100 million per movie.

2) It reduces the percieved value of TV shows and Movies. Making people less willing to pay for content from the big studios. This same thinking is used by the record labels in iTunes pricing.

3) The Reduction in cost of equipment and production making and causing competition from the tens of thousands of people who will eventually follow in their footsteps of the “Pioneer One” production team.

4) The loss of market share as more and more people enter the monopoly arena of TV and Movie production.

I know what you are feeling … Fear … Loathing … despair … and yes its only going to get worse, I bet you wish you had made a different career choice.

Welcome to the future now go out and get a real job.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Based on the some of the viscous attack comments I’ve seen both here and on TorrentFreak concerning this project it seems to me that this is really scaring the Entertainment Cartels.”

Funny that, they are about to face actual competion. Its not that they are facing competition from one or two know sources, they are facing competition from the entire planet. As I said before there are about 50,000 of them and 6 1/2 billion of us. Who will win? … big Ole GRIN

darryl says:

why suckers ?

Because you are asked to pay for something, that does not exist, that you do not know its quality, and may never even be created.

When you buy a book, you do not have to pay for the book, AND pay for the auther to write the sequal, or the final chapter.

So your a sucker because based on nothing, you are paying for something that does not exist, they may never exist, and if it does exist you might not like it.

Generally you pay for what you get, not what you hope to get at some time in the undertermined future.

No I dont work for the movie or music industry, and what has that to do with anything, does who you work for determine your logic and belief system ?

Does not for me, you see im more interested in what is right, not what you want to hear.

All im saying is that a one off attempt is not a model, and its doubtfull that it is sustainable, or will result in QUALITY content, and not just content.

Because rubbish is not good value at any price.. including free.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: re: why suckers?

Well, here we get to choose where we spend our money, IF we think something isn’t crap, unlike whatever is fired down the cable at us by clueless execs. Most of the time, we pay our subscriptions, and hope that what comes on isn’t utter drivel. Sometimes we are even pleasantly surprised. That information then allows us to make spending decisions in the future. (Yes, Buffy, Angel and Firefly mean I will forgive Joss for Dollhouse, even if it starred the lovely Eliza Dushku.)

Yes, a one-off attempt is a ‘model’. Whether it is a *successful* model is another matter – although this isn’t the first time it has been tried, nor the first time it has been successful. So please, come up with something a bit better than a weak negative than that.

We *all* agree (I hope!) that rubbish isn’t valuable at any price. But free =/= rubbish automatically, and just because someone makes a show for astronomical sums or ‘values’ it highly, doesn’t mean that enough of the public will to make it worthwhile.

So you pay for what you *hope* to get. In this case, you get to see something ahead of time.

As an aside, I would be interested if this model allows producers to sidestep all that silly geographical licensing crap and allow distribution in many countries (and formats), and without stupid windows.

Wolfie says:

The real way to do this

You are all missing an important point, the only valuable point if you ask me. Television networks make most of their money from commercials. In fact, many make ALL their money from commercials. So how about instead of depending on donations they release everything online, and to compensate for commercial breaks perhaps release it in a format where, say, a widescreen episode is adapted to 4:3 and the black space above or below can be filled with banners like on websites, say two above two below. Have them switch 10 times in a 25 min. episode and you can have 40 ads with 2.5 mins each of airtime, and you know the viewer won’t be leaving the couch during breaks. In 2.5 mins, no matter how into the episode you are, you will have seen the banner at least enough to see what the product is for. Then put one or two commercials before the episode, short enough for the viewer not to bother fast forwarding and BAM you have two spots and 40 banners paying for each episode.

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