Millions of people are watching high-quality pirated online versions of Hollywood’s top movies sooner than ever after release, jeopardizing potential ticket sales and subscriber growth as the industry embraces the streaming.
Copies of several of the year’s most popular films, from “The Suicide Squad” and “Godzilla vs. Kong” to “Jungle Cruise” and “Black Widow,” soared almost immediately after their chart-topping premieres. most downloaded. on hacking websites such as Pirate Bay and LimeTorrents, according to hack tracking organizations.
“Black Widow” was the world’s most pirated movie for three straight weeks after its July 9 release, according to TorrentFreak, a site that monitors pirating activity, while copies of “Jungle Cruise” have proliferated on the Internet a few times. just hours after its digital premiere. later that same month.
The speed of accessing illegal DVD quality copies of new movies is a recent phenomenon. Previously, high-quality duplicates mostly arrived on pirate sites months after a movie was released in theaters. Sometimes low-quality versions could be downloaded, but they were often created by people in theaters filming with camcorders or cell phones, and many considered them impossible to watch.
Piracy experts and theater executives say the proliferation of higher-quality illegal copies becoming available sooner threatens the revenue studios and streaming services could raise at the box office and by adding subscribers.
Of the 20 most pirated movies on Pirate Bay as of a recent Tuesday in August, 12 had premiered on studio streaming services. Warner Bros. ‘ “The Suicide Squad” was # 1, followed by HBO Max’s “Friends” reunion.
Walt disney Co.
“Black Widow,” “Cruella,” and “Jungle Cruise” – all offerings from the company’s Disney + streaming service – were in the top 10, not far above Disney’s “Luca”, the “Boss Baby” sequel. “from Universal Pictures, Paramount +” Infinite “and four Warner Bros. titles. which all aired on HBO Max.
Although experts in the film industry and piracy say it is difficult to follow how the studios’ newly adopted digital distribution strategies have affected the overall volume of piracy, data shows the pandemic has triggered an increase.
“We started to see a massive increase when the lockdowns started,” said Andy Chatterley, managing director of hack tracker Muso, who even saw an increase in piracy among family titles like Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog”. Pictures when the children started staying home from school in March 2020.
“Netflix NFLX -0.03%
no password ”, is how the founder of TorrentFreak, who is called Ernesto Van Der Sar, describes illegal sites.
Actress Scarlett Johansson and her team cited piracy issues as the reason they wanted to avoid streaming “Black Widow” on Disney + simultaneously, according to a person familiar with the matter. It’s a dispute that contributed to the star’s salary negotiations failing, leading Ms Johansson to sue the studio earlier this month.
Suspicions from theater owners about the “Black Widow” piracy arose when the film’s opening weekend total fell short of expectations based on the busy Thursday night preview screenings. Executives can usually predict how a movie will perform based on early ticket sales, but “Black Widow” saw a bigger-than-expected drop overnight as pirated copies proliferated, according to piracy tracking sites.
“How much money has everyone lost to the concurrent versions hack?” The National Association of Theater Owners asked in a statement after the film’s release.
Disney and AT&T Inc.
Warner Bros. declined to comment. Universal and Paramount did not respond to requests for comment. Studios typically operate internal units that follow when content is pirated and request the removal of pirated links. They also fund anti-piracy advocacy groups that cooperate with law enforcement and lobby policymakers to strengthen regulations and sanctions.
The major releases of 2021 saw a high degree of piracy, even when they performed well in theaters. Warner Bros. ‘ “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” grossed a respectable $ 201.4 million worldwide in theaters, but was also the most pirated film in the world in June, according to Muso, at 9.2 million illegal flows, of which over 1.1 million were in the United States
Despite the hacking, streaming strategies have paid off during the pandemic. Wall Street applauded the growth in subscriber numbers for Disney +, Netflix, and HBO Max, as most US theaters remained closed.
In many cases, the most pirated films were released simultaneously online and in theaters, and the smuggling curtailed what studios could have done, not only at the box office, but also from new subscriptions of the movies. subscription – potentially driven by new movie releases – or additional fees that streaming services sometimes charge to watch new movies, say executives and piracy experts.
According to the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, an advocacy group funded by media companies including Hollywood studios, stay-at-home orders have boosted the practice, with sites hosting illegal movies and TV shows attracting more. 137 billion visits last year. Before the pandemic, the global box office generated around $ 40 billion in revenue per year.
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Behind the scenes, film producers, executives and stars are voicing concerns about the issue.
Earlier this year, the high volume of global hacking of “Godzilla vs. Kong” surprised executives at his studio, Warner Bros., according to people familiar with the matter. People illegally broadcast the film more than 34 million times, according to Muso.
When Disney released “Jungle Cruise,” starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, on Disney +, a community of tens of thousands was both “sowing” – meaning sharing an illegal copy – and ” bloody “- by downloading the film for free – in less to less than a day of its release, according to piracy tracking sites. Disney, which billed Disney users + an additional $ 30 to watch the film on the platform, said it grossed subscribers $ 30 million on the film’s opening weekend.
“Hackers behave like consumers,” said Michael D. Smith, Carnegie Mellon University professor and expert on hacking. “If you make it hard enough for them to get something free, they’ll pay for it.” “
Streaming technology has improved the quality of pirated content. People can either download near-perfect versions of a movie, using special files called torrents, or stream pirated copies online. The culprits and the sites that get caught are quickly supplanted by new ones, says Professor Smith.
A Hollywood First Streaming also made it possible to share captioned copies almost instantly. In the past, foreign audiences generally struggled to obtain high-quality, captioned releases. Now Disney + and HBO Max can offer movies and TV shows in more than a dozen languages, giving illegal downloaders ready-to-go versions for overseas audiences.
““Hackers behave like consumers. If you make it hard enough for them to get something free, they’ll pay for it.“
Disney + is not available in China and “Black Widow” did not release there, but big Marvel fan Kevin He, a 25-year-old student in Beijing, managed to watch it by downloading a high-quality 4K version. almost immediately. after the US premiere of the film.
After finding links for the film on an online forum known as Douban, Mr. He said he located several copies of “Black Widow” reproduced at varying levels of quality. The version he downloaded didn’t include Chinese subtitles, but he says he easily found some to put on his pirated copy.
He also said he found links to “WandaVision” and “Loki” – two Marvel series both airing on Disney + – while searching on Baidu, a Chinese search engine.
Rich Gelfond, Managing Director of the IMAX Movie Channel Corp.
, argues that an increase in piracy and a drop in income could have a lasting impact on Hollywood. “This will limit the creation and distribution of quality content,” he said.
While it’s unclear how much piracy has shaped studio decisions, some are re-examining the online release strategies developed over the past year.
Earlier this month, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.,
the country’s largest cinema chain, said it had struck a deal with Warner Bros. for next year, ensuring that the studio’s films would receive 45 days of theatrical exclusivity before going online. The agreement reverted to an existing simultaneous exit strategy.
Disney has said it will continue to release films both online and in theaters, deciding on details on a film-by-film basis. His next Marvel movie, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” will be in theaters only.
—Yoko Kubota and Raffaele Huang contributed to this article.
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