Piracy's Hidden Treasure

Piracy's Hidden Treasure

We are now in the fourth quarter of 2020 - a quarter which is traditionally associated with tentpole releases across the entertainment industry. But 2020 has been a year unlike any other, and for an already ravaged movie business, the vital signs are not encouraging. Never mind the dump months of August and September - the dump year that is 2020 shows no sign of letting up.

If normality is being pushed back until 2021, so are all the big movies that were meant to bring cinemas back to life. Perhaps it was unfair to pin so many hopes on Tenet, but after the understandably disappointing performance, many studios are looking at the blockbuster that wasn’t, and getting cold feet about their autumn releases. Anticipated titles like Candyman, Wonder Woman 1984 and Black Widow have all been pushed back into 2021 and as of late last week, Bond 25 has been pushed back again.

Little wonder then that Cineworld just announced the temporary closure of its UK venues, in yet another huge blow for the industry. When moviegoers will feel confident enough to go back to the cinema in large numbers, or whether Daniel Craig’s final outing as Bond will be enough to entice film lovers back to the big screen, remains to be seen.

Some, like Disney, have embraced the new normal and gone for premium VOD only releases like Hamilton with great success. Which is astonishing as it’s only a year since Netflix’s pioneering decision to release Oscar offerings like The Irishman and Marriage Story exclusively in theatres for the first month of release. Cinema has quite literally been turned upside down.

Given this commercial disarray, it’s hardly surprising that the big Hollywood studios are cagey about sharing too much information about box office receipts. But if one looks to online piracy, an interesting story begins to emerge.

For a long time, the top ten most pirated titles were almost entirely comprised of blockbusters - the likes of Marvel franchises were doing as much business in the shadows as they were at the physical box office. But in the last few months, illegal streams and torrents are reflecting the dearth of new action offerings in cinemas. Whereas in any given month the top ten pirated titles would dominate - whether unlicensed streaming or torrents - it would seem that it is currently more evenly distributed amongst a wider array of film and TV titles.

Take for example August 2019. Data from MUSO shows that the most pirated film title that month, Avengers End Game, was downloaded over 7 million times via torrents and had over 11 million visits to unlicensed streaming pages offering that title. Now compare it to the same month in 2020, when the new Netflix film Project Power was the most in-demand illegally streamed title, but, in the absence of new blockbuster releases, had only 1.9 million visits to streaming pages offering it. Tenet is in the eighth position with only 708k visits to illegal streaming pages; perhaps a reflection of the studio’s reluctance to push the marketing button in such challenging market conditions.

Still. Hits are happening, just not in ways one might expect. Peninsula, the follow up to South Korean cult zombie hit Train To Busan, would not immediately suggest itself as a breakout blockbuster hit and yet streaming data shows a growing audience demand for this title. The third most popular illegally streamed title in MUSO’s data for August 2020, with just under 1 million visits, Peninsula was released theatrically in the US on August 12th with the UK release date currently slated for Nov 6th 2020. A month before its official release in the territory and European countries already account for around 25% of streaming piracy on this title. Given the slew of temporary cinema closures going into the final quarter of the year, one can only imagine continued growth in piracy for a film like this.

The wholesale absence of new blockbusters is resulting in trends reflecting the nuances and richness of piracy data. Unlicensed streaming audiences appear to closely mirror licensed behaviours, and two out of the top three pirated titles in August are titles that are available to stream legally via Netflix (Project Power) and Amazon Video (Ava).

Conversely, when we switch to analysing torrent data, there is not a single new release in the top 10 most torrented titles for August 2020. Instead, it is entirely made up of blockbusters from 2019 like The JokerGemini Man and It Chapter Two, with The Joker consistently averaging over 60K downloads a day, 10 months after it first leaked, with over 30 million downloads in total to date via torrents and 41m via unlicensed streaming sites.

This goes some way to dispel the myths that pirates who torrent and pirates who stream are one and the same. When we look at the demographic profile, the one-click access and the nature of unlicensed streaming appeals to both males and females in equal measure (55% and 45% respectively), but the torrent audience is predominantly male (70%), and would suggest a greater level of intent given the extra technical barrier to entry with torrenting.

Meanwhile, perhaps in an effort to plug the gap while waiting for big new movies, viewers are turning to TV titles over movies. Drama TV was torrented 181% more in Q2 when compared with the preceding quarter, and documentaries were up by 43%. Perhaps this is not surprising, given the enormous popularity of shows like Tiger King in the first half of 2020. One might argue that this truly is the golden age of television, or at the very least, TV has stepped up to fill the void left by cinemas this year. 

No-one really knows what will come next for the entertainment industry and how long or hard the pandemic will continue to bite but in the absence of global theatrical data, piracy data is a potential ‘Moneyball’ goldmine for the early adopters. Piracy data allows us to compare the audience demand for all titles, side by side, without walled gardens, platform or geographical bias. It can be used to predict break-out hits like Peninsula and is currently the only source indicating audience demand before wider digital release.

Contact MUSO today to find out more about data driven content protection.

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MUSO is a data company that provides the most complete and trusted view of unlicensed media consumption and global piracy demand. MUSO’s unrivalled dataset measures a vast high intent audience that is not influenced by licensing restriction or platform bias. Whether protecting IP or building winning content strategies, MUSO helps companies make better decisions that drive performance, ROI and value.