Movie Torrents Shown To Actually Boost Box Office Sales For Post-Release Movies

from the buzz dept

With what is now many, many years covering issues of piracy and intellectual property, it will come as no surprise to you that we’ve specifically dived into the intersection of copyright infringement and the film industry over and over. What is something of a counter-intuitive notion, however, is that we also have a decade-long post history pointing out that, despite all the fear-mongering about how piracy is killing the movie industry, box office records keep getting broken on the regular. The easy point to make is that obviously piracy is not killing the film industry, given how many movie tickets are being sold. But perhaps, according to a recent study, we should have gone one further and explored whether box office records were being broken in part because of piracy.

Researchers from the University of Houston and Western University dug into the effect of The Pirate Bay’s offline status in part of 2014 and came away with some surprising findings.

Movies shared on The Pirate Bay are the main focus. The researchers use the Pirate Bay downtime following the 2014 raid to measure its impact on word-of-mouth promotion and box office revenues.

Based on a sample of hundreds of movie torrents and data from most popular movie review sites, Lu and his colleagues estimated this effect. Their results are rather intriguing.

And, as you might expect, those results are also more nuanced than either “Piracy bad!” or “Piracy fine!” mantras. Instead, the research suggests that having pirated copies of a film prior to release has a definite negative impact on box office numbers. But, importantly, the opposite is true when a film is made illicitly available after release.

This changes when the researchers look at post-release piracy. That is, piracy which occurs after a film has premiered at the box office. In this case, there’s a positive effect on box office revenue through an increase in word-of-mouth promotion (WOM).

“We find that the volume of online WOM mediates the impact of piracy on the box office. Based on counterfactual simulations, the WOM-effect from post-release piracy on the box office increases revenue by about 3.0%,” they write.

In other words, when The Pirate Bay went down, box office revenue dropped as well. This effect is significant and not linked to seasonal changes, as it wasn’t there in previous years. The positive effect is strongest during the beginning of a movie’s release and differs per genre.  Action movies, comedies, and thrillers, benefit more from a positive piracy “buzz” than dramas, for example.

So what does this mean? Well, for starters, it means that the MPAA’s myopic notion that piracy is always bad, full-stop, is refuted by the data. Instead, the data suggests that movie studios could make very good use of piracy in the right circumstances, or at the very least they could focus their enforcement efforts only in the areas where piracy appears to cause actual harm, rather than where it helps sales numbers. This would be the logical course to take, given that post-release piracy appears to be a boon to box office revenue.

“Pre-release piracy can have a substantial negative effect, in our data this overwhelms the positive effect we look at. That is, the overall effect of piracy is still negative,” Lu tells us.

That said, there is an interesting lesson to be learned. Based on this study, copyright enforcement should be mainly targeted on early leaks. If these are dealt with, the main problem is ‘gone.’

“Our findings suggest approaches to target scarce anti-piracy resources, such as focusing on tackling damaging pre-release piracy,” the researchers write.

Makes sense. Hollywood, however, has never shown itself to be capable of this kind of nuance. Instead, sledgehammers are preferred over more precise approaches, with lobbying power dedicated to broad policy statements that apparently would at least in part be a detriment to sales revenues. And if that isn’t stupid, I don’t know what is.

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Comments on “Movie Torrents Shown To Actually Boost Box Office Sales For Post-Release Movies”

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"The pirates get the customer list (very valuable)"

They really don’t, it’s only the "get rich quick" con artists who find your mailing list valuable.

"Say how well did newspaper classified advertising "compete with free," i.e., Craigslist?"

Badly. Not because it wasn’t possible, but because they went absolutely the wrong way about doing it.

What’s your alternative, by the way – prevent Craigslist from existing by banning a perfectly legal business model in order to prop up another that’s rooted in last century?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Actually now that I think about it, the only way that the mailing list obsession makes any kind of sense is if he believes that the pirates are taking the same personal information he was using to scam people…

Erm, AC – you DO realise that people don’t have to part with any personal information before they download something, right? I mean, you’re wrong about your claims even if they did, but you might as well have the basic facts about the things you oppose in order.

Anonymous Coward says:

Except this can spread virii, and it gives access to the audience, thus enriching a thief and diverting traffic. Internet-only products should be the basis, not stuff in theaters or on TV, or even whose actors are on talk shows.

The idea that "piracy is okay" is incorrect. It’s not, which is why it’s a crime.

Leave it to the individual business to legally distribute samples of its work, or give away the works for a limited time. They don’t need "help" from criminals and freeloaders.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Except this can spread virii"

Caveat emptor applies. The studios could of course bypass this risk completely by offering a legal route for people to enjoy the product at home, or by making less expensive / less risky for people to try new things legally. But, they don’t do that…

"They don’t need "help" from criminals and freeloaders"

They will whether the like it or not, just as they did when people bought dodgy VHS tapes from street vendors rather than downloading.

ryuugami says:

Re: Re:

Except this can spread virii

Sure it can. But so can ads, USB flash drives, or FWD:FWD: emails from grandma. Yet no-one’s lobbying to put tech-illiterate grandmas in jail.

The idea that "piracy is okay" is incorrect. It’s not, which is why it’s a crime.

You’re (deliberately, I suspect) confusing morality with legality. Many OK things are illegal, many not-OK thinks are legal, and both sets are in constant flux.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Seats

That’s actually irrelevant – if they’re getting more money, they’re successful whether or not they get the money by convincing more people to attend, or convince less people to pay more. It may affect the type of product they are selling and how they sell it, but it makes no difference to the reality of their success.

But, if you genuinely want attendance figures there’s plenty of sites that will tell you, for example:

In short, while the overall ticket numbers are down from the height in 2002, they’re still higher than they were for any year before 1995 and are fluctuating with the last 2 years having seen an overall increase despite tickets being at their highest historically in 2018.

Terry Unterdrucker-Heimholzernmitshoenenfliegebit says:

Re: Re: Re:

I guess you never heard the term, "Positive Feedback Loop"

It’s obvious that you don’t understand that as a physical mechanism, are just parroting knuckleheads who didn’t either and mixed up two words which totally reverse the meaning of it in engineering.

Terry Unterdrucker-Heimholzernmitshoenenfliegebit says:

Happily taking as confirms your bias, as ever.

It’s a narrow study at most showing that publicity helps.

I’ll even allow that pirates are those most likely to go see crap in a theater.

But this doesn’t and cannot sweep on to any conclusion that piracy is good for movie-makers or wanted by them. They’d rather you pirates didn’t get to see their work-products for free.

And the immoral part of this study and your glee in it is that you claim to be helping promote instead of fill your empty heads with free mindless entertainments. The reason that you prefer the prior view is obvioius: even YOU hardened pirates of Techdirt can’t stand thinking that you’re just outright stealing.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Happily taking as confirms your bias, as ever.

"YOU hardened pirates"

It’s sad that you have to openly lie about people here to make your point, but such is the life of someone who cannot admit they are wrong.

"fill your empty heads with free mindless entertainments."

As opposed to the same mindless entertainment that’s paid for? Even in your lies, you accidentally admit the windmills you tilt at are in the right.

nerdrage (profile) says:

Junk science

This study is just another example of junk science. Are the movies with pre release piracy the same movies as post-release?

If you actually wanted to test the effects of pre and post release piracy you would have to test the same movie in both cases. Otherwise it’s possible that the types of movies that get pre release piracy are different than the types that get post release piracy, and the difference is due the different movie types,

Rocky says:

Re: Junk science

If you actually wanted to test the effects of pre and post release piracy you would have to test the same movie in both cases.

Uhm, how can you do that?

The whole premise is that movies that gets pirated AFTER release gets better sales which also means that the same moves never where pirated BEFORE release.

Before exclaiming "JUNK SCIENCE" maybe you should engage your brain and not suggest something that is flat out impossible to accomplish.

I can only guess you have no clue how these studies are done and the methodologies they use.

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