Netflix Won't Kill Piracy, Claims Research

By Tom Pritchard on at

Streaming services have really kicked off in recent years, particularly since they give you unlimited access a bunch of old TV shows and films you'd normally have to buy to watch. While many people see it as an alternative to piracy, new research claims that legal streaming services aren't doing very much in the fight against piracy.

Carnegie Mellon University and Universidade Católica Portuguesa carried out the study, in partnership with an unnamed telecommunications company to see if levels of BitTorrent piracy decreased when legal alternatives were on offer. The study used a piracy-tracking company to get a sample of thousands of BitTorrent users with a specific ISP, then offered half of them a free 45-day subscription to a premium streaming service. They then monitored both the legal streaming and BitTorrent traffic of those people, compared to the subscription-less control group.

Researchers found that while the participants ended up streaming more, there was no significant change to the amount of torrenting they did. Streaming increased by 4.6 per cent on average, while torrenting downloads and uploads decreased by 4.2 and 4.5 per cent respectively.

While those numbers line up reasonably nicely, a change of less than five per cent obviously isn't a very big change.

According to the research findings, the main reason people continued torrenting was because they couldn't access their favourite content through the legal service. Those who could, however, saw a much bigger difference in consumption. If users preferred the kind of content they could access by streaming, their BitTorrent download traffic dropped by 18 per cent (and 45 per cent for uploads).

That's still not a major change, but does show people are, to an extent, willing to ditch piracy if they can find their favourite content through legal means.

The unnamed service in the study apparently had an average preference fit of 12 per cent, meaning they were missing out on a lot of content people wanted to watch. Netflix, on the other hand, had an average fit of 50 per cent due to the fact its library is much larger.

The research claims that licencing windows are part of what causes this lack of availability, and means streaming services can't really compete with how available content is via piracy. It also noted that price of entry is another barrier, something that wasn't really accounted for because the participants were given a free subscription. The study claims that people were only willing to an average of $3.25 (£2.42) for monthly access to a streaming catalogue the size of Netflix's.

So the research concludes by saying people are willing to get content legally, but they'll want to get more of it for less money - something that isn't likely to happen.

While it is possible to get the majority of content legally, you need to pay a lot of money to access it all. Despite what rightsholders might like us to do, people can't afford to pay for dozens of subscription services even if they wanted to. And since it feels as though every big media company wants to become the new Netflix or Amazon Prime, that problem isn't going to get better anytime soon. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if it made people more inclined to pirate.

If one studio has its content locked behind a paywall, they're less likely to license it out to the likes of Netflix - which means other streaming catalogues might suffer and drive more people to less-than-legal sources. [TorrentFreak]

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