I’ve lost count at this point how many times and ways I’ve rejected the premise that piracy is a consumer-driven response to claims of scarcity in the market, especially in the United States; but now KPMG has released the results of a study of motion pictures and television programs that rebuts such pro-piracy claims with actual data. You can read the details of the report for yourself, but suffice to say that if you’re an American, you really have no excuse not to be watching filmed entertainment through one of many available legal channels. From my point of view, the KPMG report doesn’t reveal a lot that cannot be surmised anecdotally simply by scanning available titles on iTunes, Amazon VOD, Google Play, Netflix, Hulu, and so on. But the report does verify these casual observations for anyone seeking a more methodological examination.
Naturally, KPMG could not study every possible title and account for every taste, but by looking at a sample of 808 unique films with measurable popularity based on revenue, critical acclaim, and awards, the firm found that 94% of the films studied were available on at least one (and in most cases several) of 34 legal distribution services included in their research. These services included Subscription Video-On-Demand, ad-supported Video-On-Demand, and Electronic Sell-Through services. The study did not even include TV-everywhere services or online catch-up services offered by networks for fans who might have missed episodes when broadcast. Naturally, the report also does not look at original programming for web-based networks like Netflix’s House of Cards, though shockingly enough, these programs as well as network titles made rapidly available on such services are still pirated in remarkably high numbers.
Data aside, I can say personally that I currently use four non-broadcast, web-enabled services these days and still don’t have time to watch everything of interest. And so, I continue to wonder what kind of ultra-leisurely lives are led by those who complain about a lack of access to filmed entertainment. Simply put, if you need pirate sites to feed your demand for these media, you have WAY too much time on your hands. Certain individuals may claim that specific titles of interest cannot be found through any legal channels, and such complaints often give way to over-reaching claims that piracy is about preserving culture; but year after year, sites like TorrentFreak reveal that the most pirated titles are, not surprisingly, the most popular titles according to the same kind of criteria used by KPMG for its study. All highfalutin claims aside, if pirate sites had to rely on fans of arcane, art-house cinema, they would all fold.
To put the time thing in perspective, if we only count the titles included in the KPMG study, they translate into roughly 6.5 hours of viewable material per day for a whole year. I don’t know any adults with full lives, jobs, responsibilities, etc. who have 6.5 hours a day, every day to watch TV shows and movies. The only people who have that kind of free time are children, who really shouldn’t be watching that much of anything, legally or otherwise. And I suppose adults who possess great wealth might have that kind of time on their hands, but then they can afford all manner of access to media and are far more likely to spend their leisure time sailing or heli-skiing or something more exotic than six-plus hours a day watching TV and movies. So, claims of scarcity by anyone in the US at least really need to be scorned and then ignored for the adolescent whining that it is.
One aspect of this subject I do find interesting is that despite chronic claims by various pundits and consumers that legacy industries need to “adapt,” the filmed entertainment industry has actually responded very rapidly to changes in viewer habits and desires as consequences of changes in technology. In fact, industry-wide modifications and even experiments in distribution have been virtually in synch with advancement in the capacity to send and receive high-quality video signals worthy of our high-quality monitors and televisions. One chart on Page 8 of the KPMG report shows a trend in decreased time between primary and secondary release of motion pictures, and this downward curve over the period studied more or less matches the technological improvements that make services like Netflix and iTunes work in the first place. When you consider the scope of these industries as well as the number of potential stakeholders in a particular title (e.g. the number of licensees involved), the industry as a whole has actually done a pretty good job of keeping up with the times. I get that there remain a number of Veruca Salts out there singing “I want it now,” still unsatisfied perhaps with a three-month window between a theatrical release and a low-cost, online rental; but certain demands are simply unreasonable if we’re to have a market at all. Of course, while waiting for that one title to become available, the KPMG report shows that even Veruca has legal access to about 585 hours of other things she can watch.