Piracy of movies and series skyrockets during lockdown

Demand for movies and series online soared, and the availability of pirate content grew in parallel during isolation. Consumer behavior may never be the same again.

Cybercriminals are conscious of the growing demand for audio-visual content across digital channels and are exploiting the situation.

The health crisis caused by Covid-19 has meant that increasing numbers of consumers are locked in at home. Restaurants, theatres, and cinemas have all closed and consumer leisure time has increased, resulting in a surge in the consumption of movies and series online.

Whilst this spike has been in part down to an upsurge in those watching over the top (OTT) subscription-based services, it has also been driven by individuals downloading and streaming pirated audio-visual content.

Relationship between isolation and the rise in OTT streaming services

Countries across the globe are taking various measures to curb the growth of the Coronavirus and limit the strain on health services. Companies have encouraged or enforced employees to work from home and in some cases furloughed workers. Nurseries, schools, colleges, and universities have also shutdown meaning consumers are spending far more time in their homes than ever before.

This lockdown has meant consumers are turning to digital channels for entertainment purposes. An increase in leisure time due to the enforcement of social distancing has seen people searching for all types of audio-visual content to entertain consumers of all ages.

The global demand for home entertainment throughout all hours of the day has driven more consumers to stream and download audio-visual content. Reports suggest that demand for video content can increase by more than 60% during times of isolation such as this.

Much of this increase has been for OTT subscription platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and HBO. In fact, Netflix recently agreed to reduce the data it uses to stream its content as concern begin to mount over the potential collapse of the internet due to the increased usage.

Back in 2018 WarnerMedia Entertainment announced plans to launch their new HBO Max OTT subscription service, their release date of May 2020 would appear to be perfectly timed considering the current demand. Their offering includes a huge library of both new titles and timeless classics which is set to rival the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, providing time-rich consumers with a wealth of content at their fingertips.

Audio-visual consumption has become increasingly focused towards OTT services for some time now as viewers are becoming accustomed to streaming content through digital platforms. Despite the growing number of OTT platforms in today’s market demand for pirate audio-visual content remains high and demand has soared in parallel during these challenging times.

Piracy, the growing availability and demand for pirate audio-visual content

The downloading and streaming of pirated movies and series has also risen over recent weeks. Cybercriminals are conscious of the growing demand for audio-visual content across digital channels and are exploiting the situation.

We at Smart Media Protection protect the audio-visual content for key players within the media industry which include both rightsholders and distributors. These are our findings during this challenging period:

  • In February 2020 we discovered a total of 657,152 pirate URLs linking to audio-visual content, a number which rose to 872,644 in March which translates to an increase of 32.8%.
  • On 13 March 2020 we discovered 47,188 infringing URLs, however that number increased by 56% on 19 March (73,674). On 21 March we detected the highest number of infringing URLs during the lockdown period with 83,473. These numbers reflect the extraordinary growth of piracy when the lockdown was enforced throughout several countries.
  • In January and February 2020, we detected a daily average of 23,213 pirate URLs, that number increased to an average of 29,731 in March as the virus was declared as a global pandemic.
Piracy of movies and series skyrockets during lockdown

Web traffic to popular pirate sites such as Pirate Bay and YTS has also grown considerably since the global pandemic was announced. The former having launched a new streaming service providing consumers with instant access to thousands of pirated movies and TV shows. The popularity of these torrent sites is no secret. According to a Statista report pirate sites attracted just shy of 190 billion visits in 2018. An alarming 67.28% accessed either TV related (49.38%) or movie related (17.9%) content.

The immediate concern is the closure of movie theatres and the freeze to filming new content, but secondary is the heightened demand for pirate content in 2020 driven by this pandemic. The potential long-term damage inflicted by the consumers enhanced relationship with such content will undoubtedly harm rightsholders, distributors and the media industry as a whole.

Perhaps you can recall the well-known pirate app ‘Popcorn Time’? The app illegally shared copyrighted content for free to users worldwide. It shut down in March 2014 after a somewhat short but highly publicized period. At the time its owner admitted that legal pressure from governments, lawyers and the film and TV industry had been a contributing factor in its closure.

Well, the free to download app, often described as the ‘Netflix for Piracy’ has made a timely comeback. Using BitTorrent technology, it allows users to find and watch videos almost instantly online, eliminating the need to wait for the content to download. Its user-friendly interface and availability across Windows, Mac and Android has meant it’s well-timed relaunch has been welcomed by consumers worldwide.

Response from key players within the media industry

The media industry and the players within it are searching for ways to limit the impact of this global pandemic and the ever-increasing threat from piracy.

Perhaps Hollywood filmmakers are feeling the pinch the hardest. The revenue generated through cinema ticket sales has been exposed as theatres across the world close due to restrictions put in place. Uncertainty remains as to when these restrictions will be lifted, and this will undoubtedly vary by country.

The latest James Bond film ‘No Time to Die’ was the first Hollywood movie to announce a delay to its release date as a result of the global pandemic. It’s likely to be the first of many. The highly anticipated movie had been due to launch in April 2020, but a new release date has been penciled in for November.

After the Coronavirus stopped box-office sales, Universal Pictures announced their latest strategy to make in-theatre titles available to consumers via OTT streaming platforms. It was suggested that through a one-time payment of 20 USD, consumers could effectively “rent” a movie (for a limited period) to watch in the comfort of their own homes.

In April 2020 Trolls World Tour was made available across numerous digital platforms including Amazon Prime, Comcast, and Apple TV. Universal has now announced that the movie has generated over 100 million USD in rentals, exceeding the revenue generated from the original which premiered in movie theatres. Their decision to bypass the big screen has clearly paid off, but at what cost?

This initiative has clearly been used help limit any financial losses for the film studio. But this breaks the mold for Hollywood movie releases and could mark the beginning of a new era in terms of how movie fanatics consume the latest titles. This move has shaken up the distribution model, and concern intensifies around the future of the theatrical industry.

Whilst there is no confirmation that this will be a permanent release strategy, it has been confirmed that further titles will go straight to streaming services whilst movie theatres remain closed. It is also no secret that production companies have been wishing to trial this strategy for a number of years, yet theatres did not respond positively to the proposal. Now their wish has become a reality, and due to early signs of success could the industry be about to receive a shakeup?

As a result of this latest pandemic, and the ways in which all players have responded, consumer behavior maybe about to change forever.

Here are our five key takeaways:

  • It is clear that the demand for audio-visual content has risen in parallel to an increase in consumer leisure-time, and the consumers relationship with audio-visual content is changing as a result.
  • Rightsholders and broadcasters are finding new strategies to monetize their content breaking the mold of traditional methods.
  • Reliance on digital content and the vehicles used to deliver it has never been greater, in fact for many of us, the way in which we interact with content may never be the same again.
  • Competition within the OTT media industry is fierce but do not underestimate the real competition… the pirates.
  • The consumers relationship with pirated audio-visual continues to grow and if there was ever a time to protect your titles it’s now as a new digital era begins.

Protecting your audio-visual content online against digital piracy

We track down and eliminate illegal copies of your audiovisual content through our technology platform. Our goal is to minimize the negative impact that such infringements have on your sales and brand reputation.

Do you want to know if your audio-visual content is being pirated online?

Your content could be at risk from digital piracy, request your free Content Scan today…