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Studios Experience With Release Models What that means for movie piracy

Studios Experience With Release Models What that means for movie piracy

An illustration of pirated music being downloaded illegally with legal music service iTunes in the background in London, England.

Matthew Lloyd | Getty Images

2021 will be a very different year for the cinema business. Hoping to find ways to profit from blockbuster blockbusters, I turned to new avenues for movie releases.

For Warner Bros. , The pandemic prompted its parent company, AT&T, to decide to release all of its films in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day. Comcast-owned Universal Inc. has chosen to strike deals with individual theaters to shorten the time their movies must remain in theaters before moving onto premium video on demand.

Then there are people like Disney who have, for the most part, postponed the majority of their films until 2021 and put a handful on their streaming service.

But box office analysts won’t be the only ones watching with interest the performances of these films next year. Hacking experts are eagerly anticipating how these new release methods will affect illegal broadcasts.

“As a data science researcher, this is a dream,” said Brett Danaher, professor of entertainment analytics and data science at Chapman University. “It’s a great experience.”

As 2021 approaches, hacking experts told CNBC that they have theories about how hackers will interact with these different paradigms, but they’re not entirely sure what will happen.

What we know about piracy

First, hacking is a difficult thing to track. Experts can track some downloads from major hacking websites, but once you download this file, it can be distributed and broadcasted to thousands of other viewers privately.

It is also for this reason that experts offer a range of what piracy could cost the US economy, rather than a flat figure. Last year, the Center for Global Innovation Policy estimated that worldwide cyber piracy was costing the US economy Between $ 29.9 billion and $ 71 billion in lost revenue each year.

But a lot can be learned from pirates. Looking at the data, experts like Andy Chatterley, CEO and co-founder of MUSO, a global authority on digital piracy, can provide insights to media companies around the world.

For example, Chatterley noted that the more hype around a blockbuster movie, the more piracy it would see. Movies with big marketing campaigns, pent-up demand from enthusiastic fans and too much media will lead to more illegal downloads online.

MUSO data also indicates a high piracy rate when high-quality versions of movies are available on piracy sites. For example, “Bad Boys for Life” hit theaters in January and saw a “fairly light” amount of piracy, Chatterley said. However, when it became available for video-on-demand in mid-March, there was a huge rise in online piracy.

On the contrary, Disney’s “Mulan”, which went live to broadcast, saw a massive spike on its release day and then decreased overtime.

“Hacking was loaded at the front,” said Chatterley. “But piracy wasn’t necessarily bigger or smaller.”

How to deter illegal downloads

For companies like AT&T that will release high-quality copies of movies on Day One, there are some ways to deter piracy. For example, two weeks before Wonder Woman 1984 debuted in North America in theaters and on HBO Max, the film was released internationally.

This allowed the audience to see the movie in theaters first before a high-quality copy was put on the piracy sites. This is especially important because HBO Max is a domestic only product at the moment.

“Of course, you have people who always go to piracy,” said Michael Smith, professor of information technology and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University. “ The people you worry about are the ones who would have legally purchased your content but found it [piracy] Is more convenient. “

People wearing masks walk past a billboard for the 1984 Wonder Woman movie. Photo taken December 26, 2020.

Simon Shane | SOPA photos | LightRocket via Getty Images

Smith said the majority of people who practice piracy do so because they have no other legal way to consume the product. Had an easier legal way been provided to these viewers, they would have paid to watch the movie.

While online piracy can have negative financial impacts on media companies, the data experts who collect it can also help these companies determine what their audiences want to watch. Data from groups like MUSO can tell companies which movies or TV shows to buy or license either domestically or internationally.

For example, the European Union Intellectual Property Office determined that the “mummy” was disproportionately pirated in Spain and that the TV program “South Park” was an illegal download popular in Finland.

This information informs Universal that it may wish to make “The Mummy” more widely available in Spain and Viacom, which may wish to strike a deal with a Finnish streaming service.

What could happen in 2021

As Danaher said, 2021 will be a big experiment for the industry when it comes to piracy. It is the first time that there have been so many different release strategies all happening at the same time and for an extended period of time.

Even if some titles are more popular than others, there must be trends in the data showing how people consume their entertainment.

Like last year, it will be difficult for experts to define a clear financial impact, especially as the pandemic will likely affect how people choose to watch certain movies. People who are unable to go to cinemas may choose to broadcast legally when available, but may choose illegal routes for big movies instead.

Additionally, as premium video on demand turns into a purchase option earlier than usual, it may not be immediately apparent whether it is HD or piracy that is driving the theatrical revenue apart.

“Unfortunately, I can’t tell you who will win the horse race,” Danaher said.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.

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