BitTorrent Bundle elbows its way to the original content table
The next phase for BitTorrent's Bundle showcases "Fly or Die," an original TV show that's neck-deep in Hollywood drama.
You've never heard of the TV show "Fly or Die," but it could be the next "Orange is the New Black." At least, it could if its producers and BitTorrent get their way -- which just happens to involve heavy audience participation and the sensibilities of the YouTube era.
The public debut of "Fly or Die" is available on Tuesday as a. It's not a full-fledged show, at least not yet. The first "Fly or Die" Bundle includes an introduction to the main characters and the show's "universe," said Joel Bergvall, a writer and director with Converge Studios, which is producing the show.
"We have a very clear idea of what this universe is and very clearly defined characters," he said on a phone conference call with CNET that involved the show's producers, writers, and BitTorrent representatives.
Despite knowing the show's milieu and characters, its narrative is not set in stone.
"We want to invite the audience to make a lot of the important choices about story paths," Bergvall said. "We want to have an open dialogue with our viewers."
"Fly or Die," which takes its name from the eponymous pop song by real-life songwriting duo Rock Mafia, is a behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood and the music business. It showcases a fictionalized version of Rock Mafia called Beat Mob, as well as an independent young YouTube sensation named Aeriel Rowles (who Beat Mob is nurturing), Rowles' mother-manager or "momager," and the relationship difficulties within Beat Mob.
You may not have heard of Rock Mafia, but you've probably heard at least one of their songs. They've written for an impressive spread of pop and rock musicians, including Selena Gomez, Justin Beiber, No Doubt, Miley Cyrus, Green Day, Sick Puppies, Barbara Streisand, and Wyclef Jean.
"If you like Entourage, you'll like this show," said Tim James, one-half of Rock Mafia. "This whole business is based on egos and insecurities, and that can be really funny if shown properly shown."
"Our reality is way crazier than fiction," added James' partner, Antonina Armato. "We want to create a show that's got a truth to it, a sense of humor to it."
Rock Mafia spent much of the 2000s working with the aforementioned artists and others. In 2010, the writing duo's star climbed even higher as their song, "The Big Bang" exploded, thanks in part to a video featuring Miley Cyrus that scored more than 20 million YouTube views.
The audience participation angle to "Fly or Die" may not be unique for Internet-first shows with high production values, but it's certainly rare. The show's producers plan on it being a major part of the production, and something that can be used to differentiate "Fly or Die" from its competition.
"We want to make this the most interactive show in Hollywood," said Converge Studios Chief Executive Tim Staples. "We want to engage the audience and have them play the role of the Hollywood suits."
So where does BitTorrent come in? The BitTorrent Bundle is the tool that Staples and other people behind the show are hoping will facilitate interest. The Bundle offers the Fly or Die trailer video and the music video for the hit song from which the show takes its name. If you submit your e-mail address in exchange for the bonus content, you also get three "meet the character" videos; a behind-the-scenes video of the pilot episode; three additional videos that provide more background on the show and Rock Mafia; a show synopsis PDF; and a behind-the-scenes photo book PDF.
"We truly believe that if we bet on the audience, the business side will take care of itself," he said.
The Rock Mafia duo confessed that while "final decisions" about the show's characters and their stories will lie with the writers of "Fly or Die," they both loved the potential of bringing their show to BitTorrent's more than 180 million users.
"Having a star attached is great, but if the content isn't great, nobody will care," said Rock Mafia's Armato.
Added James: "Our business model is that if millions of people like something, it'll find a way to monetize."
That philosophy explains why they didn't go the Kickstarter route, as many entertainers have been doing. The duo said that they wanted to find their audience before they began to hit them up for donations, which would've felt like a "conflict of interest" at this early point.
To get people involved, some of the initial "Fly or Die" content will be available for free through the BitTorrent Bundle, while the rest will require viewers to submit their e-mail addresses before they're granted access. The "Fly or Die" team plans on soliciting people who take that extra step for feedback.
"If you go through the process of giving us your e-mail, that says a lot about your investment in the show," said Staples. He said that the producers also will have active Twitter and Instagram accounts. Facebook, he said, will come at a later date.
BitTorrent gets more out of this than merely experimenting with a new form of content for the Bundle. "We're trying to amplify really good new business models," said Matt Mason, BitTorrent's marketing vice president.
That's an an altruistic goal, and one that James confirmed. But it's also part of the rehabilitation of BitTorrent's image as a company that actively helps legally distribute content, a change from its more agnostic past policies.
For Rock Mafia, this is a chance to turn their passion for music, which started as a YouTube sensation, into something with far more reach. "We're sort of mavericks in the music business," said Armato. "We could become the next DreamWorks, or bigger, if we do it right."
She paused for a moment, and surprisingly, nobody else on the phone call jumped in.
"Hopefully," she said, "when nobody's looking, you're building your empire."
If "Fly or Die" can get even half the attention of Amazon's or Netflix's original content series -- like "House of Cards" or "Orange is the New Black" -- it would set more stars alight than just Rock Mafia's.
Editor's note: Using P2P and file-sharing software to distribute copyrighted material without authorization is illegal in the United States and many other countries. CBS Interactive does not encourage or condone the illegal duplication or distribution of copyrighted content.