Is digital piracy a thing of the past?

Sky TV says digital piracy is rampant – but is it really?

19may digitalpiracy hero default

Back in the early 2000s, digital piracy was rife. Streaming sites hadn’t yet come to New Zealand, and people wanted to watch what they wanted, when they wanted. At the time it was hard to argue against.

Illegal download sites offered almost every film and TV show in high-quality, ready to play instantly with little fuss. Many people claimed that if they could pay a small fee to get the same content, they would.

Fast forward to 2019 and we have a large number of legal streaming sites offering almost every film and TV show in high-quality, ready to play instantly with little fuss. So, piracy must be a thing of the past, right? Not according to Sky TV.

Last year, Sky released a report claiming piracy was still rampant in New Zealand. The report surveyed just over 1000 adults and found 10% of respondents said they ‘normally’ (a term that isn’t defined) pirate TV and movies.

“Name all the ways you would normally watch movies, TV shows or sporting events”


But while that 10% was considered a major finding of Sky’s report, it’s dwarfed by the percentage of people watching legal content. And there’s even stronger evidence to suggest piracy is waning.

Peer-to-peer (P2P) is the technology used by most streaming pirates and Taryn Hamilton, Vocus GM consumer, said that traffic is dropping – a good sign piracy is decreasing.

“We have seen P2P internet traffic steadily decreasing on our network [Orcon and Slingshot] over the past few years. While not all P2P traffic will be pirated material, it’s the best indication of the volume of piracy that we have,” he said.

“In a nutshell, our research shows that while there are a few core people still pirating, most people have turned to paid streaming services like Netflix, Lightbox and Neon. So, while not dead, piracy is well on its way there.”

And that’s a good thing! Piracy is bad for creators and consumers.

Creators lose money, but consumers lose out too. Every time a media company tries to curb pirates, consumers are faced with more restrictions on their content. Solutions such as embedding digital rights management (DRM) software into content keeps it from being copied or pirated, but it’s also more likely to stop you from playing the movie on the device you want. More extreme measures include website blocking – an option promoted by Sky in its report. Given the very low numbers of pirates, this would be like using a nuke to kill a cockroach (and more than likely the roach would survive anyway).

... most people have turned to paid streaming services like Netflix, Lightbox and Neon.

So, given all the options, why are even a small number of us still pirating content? Sky’s research found the number one reason is availability. Despite the massive online libraries of streaming sites, there’s a lot they don’t have, and what they do have changes from month to month. Moreover, what’s online isn’t always accessible to everyone. As we point out in our video streaming services trial, closed captioning isn’t available on much content.

Even when these issues are removed, there’ll always be a tiny proportion of the population that will always look for pirated content, and balk at paying even a small amount. There’ll be no converting them. Thankfully, for the rest of us, legal streaming sites aren’t going away. In fact, they’re growing in number. Our problem is now picking which ones to choose.

Member comments

Get access to comment