Content Piracy: Four in 10 Engage In It; 23% Think It's OK

While Netflix’s efforts to crack down on password sharing get a lot of press, video and other content piracy gets less public attention. 

But piracy is a significant and growing revenue sucker, recent research confirms. 

For example, a recent Horowitz Research survey found four in 10 U.S. adults admitting that they pirate video content, according to a presentation by Adriana Waterston, chief revenue officer and insights and strategy lead. Using a “jailbroken” set-top box, visiting a pirating website or peer-to-peer BitTorrenting are the top ways of pirating, the survey found. 

It also found key differences between password sharers (a legal activity, as long as content owners/distributors allow it) and those who engage in the illegal practice of pirating content. 

Those who password-share skew lower income (58% earn less than $50,000 per year), multicultural, young (41% between 18 and 34), and female (59%); and are likely to be cord-cutters (60%).

Those who pirate content are also young (50% 18 to 34), but are more likely to be middle class (40% earn $50,000 to $99,999), male (55%) and have kids in the home (51%). They’re also heavily into content, and more likely to have a cable or satellite service, watch free services, and watch international (40%) and foreign-language content (38%) on a weekly basis. 

But the most challenging aspect of piracy for content owners and distributors may be that many who engage in it think it’s acceptable. 

A recent survey of U.S. internet households by Parks Associates found nearly a quarter (23%) expressing that view about video and/or music content — up from 14% in 2019. 

While the leading rationalizations are that “movies/music should be available to everyone for free” and “the movie/music industries still make lots of money,” about half who think pirating is OK say it’s OK because “no one ever gets in trouble for it” (chart above). 

One obvious response would be for the industry to get very aggressive about threatening or even prosecuting them. But that’s a tricky proposition. In this day of social sharing, public sentiment about a streaming service — and therefore subscription volumes — could suffer if pirates stir up empathy and outrage about being called on their illegal behavior. That’s not an acceptable prospect for streamers now struggling for subscriber growth and share. 

Instead, the technical end of the solution appears to be focused mainly on heading pirates off at the pass.

“The good news is there is technology and intelligence available to keep content secure and stop them in their tracks,” Steve Epstein, fellow solutions engineer at video technology provider Synamedia, said in previewing a seminar for Parks Associates in which solutions providers and content protection pros outlined specific ways for disrupting and preventing privacy. 

However, the experts also point out that some consumers don’t even realize that they are engaging in pirating, and others feel “forced” to resort to those behaviors because of the difficulty of navigating the increasingly complicated streaming environment. 

“With an increasingly fragmented content landscape as content owners [license to] direct-to-consumer services, piracy is soaring. Ultimately, consumers are looking for content, so we all need to focus on the best, aggregated approaches to allow this to happen,” said Sebastian Kramer, senior vice president of product management for pay-TV and OTT solutions provider NAGRA. 

“There is room for improvement from the industry in several perspectives: education, content security, and product design,” summed up Serhad Doken, CTO at licensing solutions and platform Adeia.

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