2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of the original Napster and the birth of wide-spread digital piracy. Two decades on and the way we consume entertainment has changed beyond recognition.
Those of us patiently waiting two hours for a modest file to download on our 56K dial-up connections in 1999 – while our friends tried in vain to get through on our landlines – could not have imagined the near instantaneous on demand access to everything and anything – films, music, books – that we take for granted today. Blink and you have War and Peace downloaded to your smartphone. (If you have patience enough to read the whole thing in this day and age of instant gratification, Mazeltov.) As many movies as you want, all the box sets you can handle and the entire back catalogue of every band you’ve ever loved, all for less per month than you spend on a single pizza.
And as the shutters unthinkably came down on entertainment behemoths like Blockbuster, Borders, Tower, Virgin Megastore – to name but a few – it appeared the migration to monetised digital platforms was complete. Right..?
It seems reasonable that the emergence of these digital providers with low cost and high volumes of content allowing consumers to legitimately gorge themselves like kids in the proverbial candy store, would signal the end of piracy. However, in 2018 there were 190 billion visits to piracy sites, which equates to 56 visits per human who uses the internet. 126 billion of these visits were to film or TV piracy sites – a sobering thought if you imagine that this would be the equivalent of every one of Netflix’s 137 million subscribers using the platform 919 times in a year. That’s one hell of a breakup and binge on a box set and ice-cream.
Why is this enormous consumer base being ignored, or worse, prosecuted? We equate money on the table with the level of fandom – but the reality is that this is a ‘high-intent’ audience and one that, some might argue, is even more high-intent given the lengths they go to in order to access the content they want. This audience of twenty years is not going to go away, but if they won’t give legitimate content providers their money, there is something else they can give them.
Data. Not just in terms of metrics, but specificity of engagement. And often overlooked – enthusiasm. Granted, creators of content cannot live on air and goodwill alone and all creatives have the right to be paid for their work, but to dismiss this huge audience as somehow less worthy of consideration is outdated folly.
Ask a room full of people if they watched something online via an unlicensed platform recently and most hands will go up. Ask the same group if they also subscribe to a licensed platform and – this may surprise you – most of those same hands will also go up. These people love the product. With them comes a whole new way to measure popularity and emergent trends. These are the target audiences, the people who go on to buy merchandise. Or turn up to a gig. Or a fan convention. Or tell their friends.
Twenty years of fighting piracy has taught us two things: it’s not going away and it directly mimics licensed consumption. 81% of TV and film piracy is via unlicensed web streaming and it shows no signs of abating. With the fragmentation of content across multiple platforms and the rise in exclusive content now is the time to make a concerted effort to understand and embrace these vast audiences and the myriad opportunities they present.
Originally published on Forbes.
Piracy data from MUSO.com
Netflix subscribers data from Statista