They Aim to Misbehave

Cast pf Firefly

Last Monday night, the television world was abuzz with anticipation for what seemed like the perfect end to the “McConaissance”: an Emmy, in the same year as his Oscar, for actor Matthew McConaughey’s performance in the acclaimed HBO drama True Detective. Defying all expectations (and perhaps the Vegas odds) McConaughey lost to repeat winner Bryan Cranston, for his equally acclaimed work on the hit AMC series Breaking Bad. The triumph of TV stardom over movie stardom is rare in Hollywood, and as host Seth Meyers noted at the beginning of the night, “[TV’s] not like that high-maintenance diva movies, who expect you to put on pants and drive all the way over to her house and buy $40 worth of soda.” Perhaps this is why TV is also gaining on movies in another area besides awards: piracy.

Piracy in TV is rapidly increasing, as just about every Emmy-nominated show—broadcast, cable, pay-per-view and streaming—suffers from illegal downloads. In fact, surprisingly, according to Tru Optik, it is Netflix’s Orange is the New Black (OITNB) that secured the second spot this year, behind oft-cited industry statistic, HBO’s Game of Thrones. It was downloaded 60 million times in the first six months of this year. What’s most interesting about that news is that literally anyone with an internet connection can watch OITNB, along with a third of the other Emmy-nominated scripted TV shows and movies, on Netflix for $8 a month. And for the millennial generation where almost everyone has someone’s Netflix password, if not their own, it’s ridiculous that even this business model (designed explicitly at a low cost in order to create a high number of subscribers) cannot curb the trend of online piracy.

Speaking as a daily user of Netflix, it is easily the most complete place to find every TV show (and movies, if you’re into that) on the internet. And if you want to talk millennial staples: How I Met Your Mother, Breaking Bad, the Walking Dead, Parks and Recreation, Archer, etc., you really cannot find a better location for your streaming needs. It appears, however, that this is not enough for the “instant gratification” generation. According to a 2013 report from Columbia University’s American Assembly Public Policy think tank, about seventy percent of online Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 say they have downloaded music or a movie free or copied a CD or DVD. Around thirty percent say they get most of their entertainment through free downloads.

So what makes some people behave like criminals? It’s hard to say. Some shows see rapid decreases in piracy once they appear on Netflix — like Joss Whedon’s cult favorite Firefly — but clearly this is not true of all shows (OITNB is original Netflix content, which means it’s been available for streaming since the beginning). Others, like Jon Nicolini of CEG Tek (a data service that tracks online piracy), allege that the “binge-watching” shows like OITNB and House of Cards suffer from piracy because every episode is available at once, supposedly making it easier to copy content. Still others note that those who pirate content are also the most likely to stream content legally: the American Assembly report states that those who download music illegally spend 30 percent more on legal copies of songs and albums. The takeaway is that these are people who want to see everything, and while Netflix does have most things, it cannot have everything.

Ultimately, the buzz around Emmy-nominated shows is probably what drives a lot of this piracy post awards. (No one likes to be out of the culture loop). But given the ease with which streaming options exist, especially for broadcast, cable and online TV, it’s almost offensive that some people can’t just cough up the cash to watch. No power in the ‘verse might be able to stop piracy completely, but at least young Americans might consider that staying at home in your pajamas and watching Walter White perfect his blue meth method is about the best value you can find for your $8 anywhere.

Print Friendly

About the author

Michelle Wein is a Trade Policy Analyst at ITIF, specializing in the connections between international trade, innovation, intellectual property and economic productivity.