Q&A: BitTorrent’s Simon Morris

Whither BitTorrent? The company is picking itself up and putting itself back together after recent exec departures and layoffs. And it has finally shed its consumer business, the download store that had helped kicked off Hollywood’s last few years of digital dealmaking, but never did much after that.

We just got off the phone with BitTorrent VP of Marketing Simon Morris, who filled us in on the company’s changing strategy, as well as the recent hubbub about it moving away from a TCP-based P2P protocol to one that would interfere with VoIP and other activity. Morris said that following the company’s multiple rounds of layoffs, BitTorrent is now “in safe shape” to move forward. A lightly edited transcript follows.

NewTeeVee: So, I saw that the Torrent Entertainment Network is no longer up. When did that shut down?

Simon Morris: I think it was Nov. 17, a little over two weeks ago.

NewTeeVee: Was that due to lack of use?

Morris: It was due to two things. We found it very hard to make it a profitable business endeavor. If you look at the things we’re trying to do as we shrink down the company due to the economic environment, we’re experts in content delivery over the internet. With the Torrent Entertainment Network we were stepping into a new domain of merchandising of consumer entertainment products. In many ways, the retrenchment of the company has been really focusing on what we’re good at.

NewTeeVee: Can you give specific numbers on how many users or downloads you had?

Morris: No. It wasn’t sufficiently successful for us. We investigated all sorts of different approaches: try before you buy, download to own, download to rent, ad-supported streaming. Ultimately, I wouldn’t say us retrenching away from it is any indication it can’t be done, it’s just pure resources.

NewTeeVee: It seems from your shutdown FAQ that you’re doing a good job of taking care of obligations to former customers.

Morris: We have DRM servers; we’ll just leave them up. It seems from a PR point of view far more sensible to leave those things in place.

NewTeeVee: So, what’s happening with your remaining businesses? How is the P2P CDN business going?

Morris: We’re focusing both on our consumer BitTorrent client but also on our DNA content delivery service. The client is more popular than ever. Though I don’t know if you saw the article in The Register this week? We’re now talking to the guy about writing a followup. You will find his opinion may have changed.

NewTeeVee: That was about moving to the UTP protocol?

Morris: It was about moving from TCP to UTP. The tone of the article and the hysteria surrounding it was about creating a greedy protocol to bring the Internet to its knees, and in fact it’s the opposite, we’re working on a more polite, gentler protocol. We’ve briefed the ISPs, including Comcast, and we’re ultimately not trying to do something that would damage ourselves.

NewTeeVee: And as for the DNA product?

Morris: The DNA client also has the benefit of this polite protocol, which has actually already been implemented in the DNA client. The new protocol is UTP, based on UDP, but with a very important layer built on top that gives it particular congestion control.