Note: This article is an offshoot of the Variety Intelligence Platform’s special report “The New Face of Content Piracy,” available exclusively to VIP+ subscribers.
After taking a plunge during the great COVID lockdown, media piracy has returned in a massive way.
The proliferation of popular broadcast TV content and the return of strong wide-release movie listings have helped drive steady increases in bootleg viewers since 2020, according to exclusive data from piracy-focused research firm Muso.
This data measured 215 billion global visits to piracy websites in 2022, an 18% year-on-year increase compared to 2021. Unsurprisingly, the US has the largest share of film and TV demand (that is, illegal streams, downloads, and the like) of any country, With over 13.5 billion visits to hacking websites.
Globally, TV piracy captured the largest share of traffic, at over 46%; The film came in third after publication, with only 13%.
However, the movie sector saw a significant jump in piracy in 2022, with illegal consumption of movie content increasing by 36% year-on-year. While the volume of wide-release films remained down from pre-pandemic levels last year, a year-over-year increase in popular titles — such as Top Gun: Maverick and The Batman — helped fuel renewed demand.
Meanwhile, TV piracy grew nearly 9% as of 2021, driven in part by what Muso calls “unprecedented global increases in piracy demand” for animated series and new big-budget programming, such as “House of the Dragon” on HBO and Amazon’s “Rings of Power”.
The streaming revolution has also led to changes in the way audiences consume pirated content. According to Muso, torrent sites, which use a network of computers to share large files, have been the dominant method for hacking. This is no longer the case.
Over the past decade, as legal streaming has become the dominant way to watch at home, illegal streaming sites have also overtaken downloads as consumers’ primary method of piracy. In 2022, 95 percent of pirated TV content and 57 percent of movie content is accessed via unlicensed streaming websites.
Furthermore, the data indicates that users often have what Muso calls “preferred piracy destinations for watching or downloading content”. Only nearly a quarter of film and TV piracy in 2022 was directed from search engines, with two-thirds of that coming from direct traffic — that is, going directly to the piracy site in question.
This may be evidence of piracy becoming increasingly entrenched as part of the entertainment consumption landscape, as consumers use sites frequently enough that they no longer need to search to find them.
In short, content piracy is hardly on the wane, even though many movie and TV titles are more accessible and affordable than ever before. Muso expects movie piracy to exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2023, and it seems unlikely that the upward trajectory for television will reverse anytime soon. It is clear that the industry needs a more creative or radical strategy to combat this rampant phenomenon.
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