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Popcorn Time Offers Smooth-as-Butter Streaming

By Richard Adhikari
May 20, 2015 1:47 PM PT
popcorn-time-browser-based-streaming-netflix-pirates

Popcorn Time, known as the "Netflix for Pirates," has introduced a browser-based service that lets users play streaming videos without having to download anything. The videos play on the company's servers.

However, the browser-based service does not include a built-in virtual private network, a feature of the downloadable Popcorn Time app.

Popcorn Time presents thumbnails and film titles just like Netflix does, and users can browse the site to select the movies they want to watch, just as they can on Netflix.

Most of the videos stream in HD, although users with slower Internet speeds can switch to lower-resolution displays in some instances.

Popcorn Time at a Glance

Popcorn Time began as a multiplatform open source BitTorrent client that included an integrated media player. It ran on Linux, OS X, Windows and Android. The source code was downloadable from the Popcorn Time site, and contributors reportedly localized the program into 44 languages.

The app used sequential downloading to play copies of films listed by the website yts.to.

The Argentinian devs who created Popcorn Time took down its website and GitHub repository in July 2014 in response to a takedown request from the Motion Picture Association of America.

A couple of teams later forked the original Popcorn Time source code. One fork is PopcornTime.io, and the other is Popcorn-time.se .

"They seem to be able to move their servers fast enough that they can't be shut down," remarked Rob Enderle, principal at the Enderle Group. "There have been efforts to block them at the ISP level, but these have proven less than successful, as you have a lot of technical folks who know how to get around blocks."

The existing Popcorn Time app is available in beta for Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS and Android. It includes a built-in VPN, which the browser-based version lacks.

VPNs are difficult for ISPs to block because they can't identify the content a user is accessing, Enderle told the E-Commerce Times. However, "ISPs like this, because they can show they can't know what's in the VPN and thus aren't forced to cut the strings or be held liable."

Avast There, Lubbers!

It can be argued that using Popcorn Time constitutes an act of piracy, but that alone isn't enough to deter many users.

"Piracy has been around for millennia," noted Michael Goodman, director of digital media at Strategy Analytics.

Several other sites, such as Webflix.me and IGLO Movie, offer similar capabilities.

Depending on location, it may be legal to stream pirated content. In some parts of Europe, for example, it's legal to do so as long as it isn't downloaded.

"This is an international problem with folks that learned from Pirate Bay," Enderle said. "Given that the technology for spreading information is more advanced than the technology for blocking it, [copyright holders] are basically playing whack-a-mole with an ineffective hammer."

Fighting Piracy

Enforcement seems to be the only option copyright holders have, said Mike Jude, a research manager at Frost & Sullivan. "If the server's shut down, there is no service."

However, the key is not to try to eradicate piracy, but to manage content, argued Strategy Analytics' Goodman.

"Filing lawsuits and going after consumers like the MPAA did didn't work," he told the E-Commerce Times. "You have to give people content where and when they want at a reasonable price."

If access to content is convenient, and if legitimate content distributors' websites are easy to use, have large libraries, and provide value for the dollar, Goodman said, they will attract lots of users.

"Netflix continues to grow like gangbusters despite the large numbers of pirated sites," he pointed out, "and Game of Thrones is probably the content that's the most pirated, but it's very profitable for HBO."


Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.


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