The New Normal? What The Coronavirus Means For Digital Piracy

The New Normal? What The Coronavirus Means For Digital Piracy

As featured in Forbes

Sometime in the not too distant future, we will look back on this period and remember it as the time we rejigged the calendar era into BC: before Coronavirus; and AC: after Coronavirus. Right now, we are muddling through the greatest period of uncertainty in living memory where oil is in negative territory, household names are going bust on a daily basis and the most in-demand item of personal apparel is a mask. On the plus side, levels of pollution worldwide have plunged to pre 1950s levels - but only because of the brutal decimation of the airlines and industry in general.

Nobody can accurately predict where we will end up. But only a few weeks into lockdown and to many the cure is looking worse than the disease. If people fear the virus, they fear the socio-economic impacts as much, if not more: especially if the resulting recession turns into a full-blown depression to rival that of 1929. This may not be the roaring twenties we all had in mind this January 1st just gone.

Things we took for granted only a few short months ago seem like extraordinary luxuries deleterious to health. Coffee in that favourite little joint  - now shut - where people usually queue like jam-packed sardines because the espresso is so damn good. Lounging in the local park with friends on a sunny day. A trip to the cinema for the latest blockbuster release. All these things seem like a lifetime ago. But when we do emerge from this period, how likely is it that we will embrace these things as normal? And if we do return to anything approaching normal, how long is that likely to take?

Much depends on the availability of a vaccine or cure, and that is sadly, for now at least, unknowable. What we do know however is that millions, if not billions, of people’s economic situation has been dramatically altered and the ramifications of this will have a direct effect on consumption. The signs are already there across every sector and companies are playing catch up on a daily basis with fast-moving changes in consumer behaviour.

While Netflix has just enjoyed its biggest three month gain since its creation - adding a whopping 16 million new subscribers to the platform - the company was careful to state that they did not expect further growth of this nature; indeed, it forecasts a deceleration in new subscriptions. And this makes sense if one considers that these numbers only cover the period ending in March 2020, when the lockdown was at its peak and many people were yet to be furloughed or made redundant. Very soon, if they haven’t already, savings will run out and the record unemployment figures reported from the US will become the norm the world over. Then lockdown will finally ease and no longer confined to their homes, people will embrace the opportunity to wean themselves off the TV and brave the great outdoors. If cancel culture was a small bugbear for subscription services in the past, it will be the inevitable not too pretty hangover once the lockdown viewing party is over.

No doubt viewing numbers are considerably higher than ‘normal’ - whatever that used to be - and encouraging as it is that consumers want to pay for high-quality content, even more of them want it for free. MUSO’s latest data would suggest an unprecedented spike in online piracy. Comparing the last week of March when lockdown began to the last week of February 2020,  MUSO saw film piracy increase by 41% in the USA, 43% in the UK, 50% in Spain, 62% in India and an astonishing 66% in Italy. These numbers would seem to confirm that it has never been easier to view content illegally and people have never been more relaxed about doing so.

The story for sports broadcasting is even more dire. How can people justify paying for something when there is absolutely no new content to be had? Just as premier football leagues are dependent on broadcast payments to survive, so the broadcasters themselves are dependent on the teams for their very content. It’s a vicious cycle and unless events resume soon, could spell disaster for all concerned.  In the UK, both Sky and BT are looking at combined estimated revenue losses of £1billion if the English Premier League does not return by August.

Television and film may not be immune either. With production on all-new drama and entertainment content suspended, how long before broadcasters are reduced to rotating repeat after repeat? And how long will those paying for the service tolerate it? New content is king: quite literally in the case of Netflix’s smash Tiger King and when those dry up so will the new subscriptions from those keen to find out what all the buzz is about. Add to the mix all the Gen Z kids  - who never grew up trying to illegally download Blink 182’s latest offering via dial-up - realising that anything you want to watch or listen to is available for free, often from the first page of Google and almost instantaneously, and a whole new army of can’t pay, won’t pay consumers is born. For as long as school’s out - and it looks like being a while yet in many countries - screen time is going through the roof in a demographic that is low on disposable income.

And when we’re miraculously set free from lockdown? It seems unlikely that it would be anything other than a staged release. Sure, some of the middle and upper classes may have weathered the financial fallout from Coronavirus intact, but the vast majority will stumble blinking into the post lockdown world under serious financial constraint while they repair the damage done. If there is cash to spare, are they really going to race into cinemas, with limited new releases to tempt them, and conflicting reports about the potential airborne transmission of Coronavirus through air-conditioning systems? Chinese cinemas might have reopened after three months of closure, but within the space of a week, they were shuttered again due to fears of re-infection.

While cinema survived being closed for lengthy periods of time during the Spanish Flu epidemic, it had no competition; no TV and no streaming platforms. A hundred years on, and it’s anybody’s guess if cinema as we know it will survive. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that very few things are actually essential; and in order to ride out the aftermath of mass unemployment and job uncertainty, luxuries such as cinema tickets and entertainment subscriptions will be amongst the first expenditure to be sacrificed. Make no mistake - the need for entertainment will never go away - but the ability to pay for it on a regular basis is already being severely curtailed. When the everyday person is struggling just to get by, an illegal stream here or there does not register as theft - more little guy against the big guys. And right now, in the face of a lethal pandemic, who doesn’t feel like the little guy?


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MUSO has published a new white paper; Coronavirus, Contagion And The Movie Industry: The New Going Viral. In this paper, we discuss the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on illegal streaming, the movie industry and box office revenues. Download the white paper to find out more.


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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.