Consumer frustration drives online video piracy

Samantha Bookman, FierceOnlineVideoIn my latest feature discussing the ongoing problem of online video piracy, I cite a cartoon from popular website, The Oatmeal, describing a user's frustrating attempt to download HBO's popular series, Game of Thrones, legally. The result, of course, is that the user has to torrent the series illegally because he can't find it online. The trouble is, that cartoon was first published in 2012. Why bring it up it now? Because the problem is still here.

Despite the efforts of copyright holders and representative organizations over the past decade and a half--many of which were outright public relations disasters--online piracy continues and according to some statistics, is on the rise. And online video ranks right up there among media, such as popular music, that is illegally downloaded.

In February, Irdeto reported that illegal downloads of Oscar-nominated films skyrocketed following the nomination announcements. In the first week after their nomination, downloads of The Imitation Game jumped 175.17 percent; American Sniper downloads increased 230.39 percent, and downloads of Selma leaped more than 1,000 percent.

Irdeto estimated that the potential revenue lost due to these downloads was as much as $35 million for those three films alone.

With an ever-increasing amount of content available to stream online, why aren't illegal downloads on the wane?

While organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have ascribed illegal downloading to scofflaws--both individual downloaders and large file-sharing organizations like Bittorrent--the situation is more complicated than that.

Increasingly, online users want their content to be available where, when and how they want it. That means getting it as soon as it piques their interest, in a format and at a time that's convenient for them, and on their favorite device--whether it's a smartphone, tablet or television.

And that immediacy has become an issue for content providers, who are only beginning to transition from traditional release-window models for both movies and television series. In the past, waiting several months between the theatrical release of a movie and its availability on-demand was considered normal--and consumers really didn't have much say in how long they had to wait. It was much the same for television series, which fit somewhat comfortably into cable and satellite operators' on-demand lineups. The owners of those series aren't always so comfortable licensing their content to online video providers or for multiscreen uses by various distributors.

For example, the original CSI - Crime Scene Investigations was only just licensed exclusively to Hulu a few weeks ago. That first entry in the CSI franchise premiered 15 years ago. In the meantime, HBO's super-popular series Game of Thrones continues to employ super-long release windows for each season: Its fourth season, which ran beginning last spring, only became available for download in February of this year.

Solving the piracy issue will take not only time but some innovative thinking. In this latest FierceOnlineVideo feature we take a look at piracy's recent past and ways to combat it in the near future. And release windows may play a big part in the solution. Check out the special report here.--Sam