Piracy has been rampant among some of Hollywood’s biggest film releases over the past year, as many studios debuted in theaters and on streaming services simultaneously.
Five months into 2022, major studios have largely moved away from simultaneous releases and, for the most part, are reaping the rewards at the box office as their films aren’t being aggressively pirated as soon as they hit theaters.
Cinema industry leaders have insisted that “day-and-date” releases, as the simulcast model is called, facilitate the piracy of films and thus reduce a film’s box office earnings.
Mortal Kombat premiered simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. It grossed $42 million in the US and $84 million worldwide. Black Widow hit theaters and Disney+ Premier Access simultaneously. It grossed $183 million in the US and $378 million worldwide.
“When a film is simultaneously released on a streaming service, a pristine copy of that film is made available on the first day it hits theaters,” said John Fithian, CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO ), Insider in an interview last year.
At last month’s CinemaCon, an annual conference where film studios showcase their upcoming releases to exhibitors, Fithian reiterated that sentiment during a speech, saying that spikes in piracy are “most drastic when a film is available to watch at home for the first time.” .
He then declared that day-and-date was “dead as a serious business model”.
That doesn’t mean movies don’t still face piracy. According to Muso, a leading piracy intelligence company, visits to film piracy websites increased by 42.5% in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. However, keep in mind that film releases in the first few months of last year were low.
Insider has analyzed the most pirated movies of the year so far, according to weekly updates from piracy tracking website Torrent Freak, and it’s clear that the movies became more pirated once they became available online, either through streaming services or for the digital rental.
Today, that mostly means movies can be easily pirated much sooner after their theatrical releases than before the pandemic. The studios have mostly shortened the exclusive cinema window. The window before the pandemic was typically 75 to 90 days. Now 45 days is emerging as the new standard, although some films will have shorter or longer time slots.
Theater executives who Insider spoke to said an exclusive theatrical run can provide impetus for a film’s eventual streaming debut. The data suggests that the same is true for piracy, or at least that a movie that’s a hit in theaters might also be popular on piracy sites.
For four weeks this year, Spider-Man: No Way Home topped Torrent Freak’s weekly list of the most pirated movies, the most of any movie. It was also the highest-grossing film of the past year at the US and worldwide box office.
After three months in theaters only, the film was made available on premium video-on-demand platforms such as Prime Video and iTunes, whereupon it immediately shot to the top of the weekly leaderboard.
Similarly, “The Batman” increased in piracy after it was made available on HBO Max. During its 45-day theatrical run, it earned $369 million in the US and $768 million worldwide.
It’s not just box office hits that experience spikes in piracy once they’re available online. Movies like Moonfall and Blacklight, which flopped in theaters, were also high on torrent freaks’ lists, just not as often as hits like No Way Home.
Muso noted in a recent report that its piracy data is often used by customers to uncover hidden treasures for content acquisition. In the case of Blacklight, the report states that its popularity on piracy websites indicates a larger audience for the film than the box office suggested, making it a strong acquisition target for VOD platforms.