Sensing that the end is near for packaged video formats such as DVD, major movie studios are now racing to embrace digital movie downloads, despite only tepid success in the market thus far. This morning, Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox announced that beginning in February 2007 they'll participate in a legal online video service that will utilize BitTorrent technology. (Warner Bros. is already on board.) These movie studios will be joined by various TV content providers, including MTV Networks.

"We come to the table with a solution to piracy," said BitTorrent's General Manager Eric Patterson. "Millions of people are using BitTorrent to download content legally and illegally. We know from our research that 30 percent of that audience will pay for content. We're going to help the studios turn an enormous problem into a viable sales channel."

BitTorrent is a file-sharing scheme for transferring large amounts of data across the Internet in a more efficient manner than was previously possible. BitTorrent works by breaking large files into tiny subfiles that can be distributed to numerous PCs around the world, then downloaded to other PCs. Because of BitTorrent's distribution nature, users will automatically download subfiles from the closest and fastest online locations, speeding up the process for everyone.

Currently, the large sizes of TV show and movie downloads limits consumer appeal. But these companies hope to sway potential customers with the ever-widening use of broadband Internet access and network-friendly technologies such as BitTorrent. This embrace of digital technologies suggests that these companies have learned from the mistakes of the music industry, which continues to pursue its aggressive anti-download policies. In the most recent example, Universal Music Group threatened to withhold its content from Microsoft's Zune service unless Microsoft paid it a per-device fee. Universal is also expected to try and levy the same fee against market leader Apple.