American Sniper isn't just a favorite to win Best Picture at Sunday's Academy Awards presentation. It's also the most heavily pirated movie among the eight films nominated for the top Oscar, according to data released by Irdeto. The film depicting Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was downloaded via BitTorrent more than 1.39 million times in the month following its nomination.
Irdeto, a multiscreen service provider, tracked BitTorrent download data across the United States and in more than 200 countries between Jan. 15 and Feb. 14, using tracking software to identify IP addresses and files downloaded from the popular torrent network.
That a top-nominated film is also in top demand by illegal downloaders isn't surprising. What Irdeto found, however, is that 31 percent of all the illegal downloads tracked during this period were sourced from DVD screeners of the nominated films. These physical copies are distributed to film critics, awards voters and other members of the film industry ahead of the Academy Awards ceremony.
"What we do see is that the time between screener copies becoming available and the release date is leading to a lot of this piracy," Irdeto VP of Services Rory O'Connor told FierceOnlineVideo.
Distributing screeners via DVD or Blu-ray discs is a clear security gap, but O'Connor doesn't see why studios, particularly those whose movies aren't blockbusters, need to keep their films under wraps once the nominations are out.
"(When) less popular movies get a nomination, the number of downloads increase substantially," O'Connor said in an interview with FierceOnlineVideo. "For example, in the case of Selma that (increase) was over 1,000 percent" in the first seven days after its nomination.
(Source: Irdeto Piracy & Business Intelligence Quick Read Report)
Small films have traditionally benefited from Oscars nomination, which gives them publicity that they couldn't afford on smaller budgets. But those films could be losing revenue--to the tune of around $40 million--because enthusiastic consumers can't see them in a theater or on demand and must access them by more nefarious means.
"What we're advocating is a collapsing of the release windows to ensure that people can legitimately acquire the content when the publicity is generated," O'Connor said. "The natural reaction of people is when they read about something they want to watch it … most folks will pay a reasonable price if there's a legitimate alternative. What we're seeing is they're reaching for an illegitimate alternative and downloading movies via torrent sites."
Narrowing release windows is a strategy both Netflix and Amazon are testing. Netflix will simultaneously stream the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on the day it's released in IMAX theaters nationwide. Amazon is considering narrower release windows of four to eight weeks for its Original Movies effort.
Movie studios and theaters aren't hot on the idea at all, however, with many theaters saying they won't screen the Crouching Tiger sequel--which doesn't come out until May of this year.
However, between pervasive illegal downloading and outright security breaches such as the hack of Sony Pictures last year, neither theaters nor studios may have a better choice in protecting their profit margins.
- see this press release
Amazon explores narrowed theatrical-release strategy, appoints indie veteran Hope to lead unit
Double whammy: Sony to release 'The Interview' on YouTube, other VOD outlets as well as in theaters
Netflix to distribute 'Crouching Tiger' sequel day-and-date with global IMAX release