The State of Cinemas and Digital Piracy During the Pandemic
Wed, April 21, 2021

The State of Cinemas and Digital Piracy During the Pandemic


No one knows when the pandemic will end or where we will end up, said Andy Chatterley of business news website Forbes. This period of uncertainty has made us fearful of the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak, especially if it rivals the 1929 great depression.

We have taken the simplest things for granted such as watching the latest movies in cinemas, purchasing coffee from a café, or relaxing in a park. Nowadays, these are nothing but luxuries that are detrimental to our health. Hence, we must find ways to entertain ourselves even if we have to resort to piracy to fulfill that need.

The Rise of Digital Piracy

In 2017, global authority on digital piracy Muso found that piracy increased by 1.6% throughout 2017, stating that 300.2 billion visits to privacy websites across TV and film, music, publishing, and software were observed. Although subscription services like Netflix are available, demand for illegitimate content did not significantly drop. For example, 96.1% of visits were made via web-based streaming sites, with access via mobile access (51.92%) rising to become the most popular way of consuming pirated content. 

Regarding the use of piracy sites to access films, users relied on web-streaming sites to access content. 32.4 billion visits were being streamed from the web unlike 10.3 billion visits made via public torrent sites and 10.1 billion visits to web download sites. When pirating music, stream ripping was the third most popular method, with 15.7 billion visits throughout 2017 unlike web-streaming sites (30.5 billion visits) and web download sites (21.2 billion visits). Mobile (87.13% of visits) beats desktop (12.87% of visits) with regard to devices used for accessing pirated music.



On the other hand, Muso found that piracy surged during the last seven days of March, with 66% of individuals in Italy accessing film piracy sites, cited Sarah Whitten of CNBC, a business and financial news platform. The country was followed by India (63%), Spain (50%), Portugal (47%), Canada (45%), and UK (43%). Other countries that saw an increase in web visits to film piracy sites were the US (41%), France (41%), Germany (36%), and Russia (17%).

In another survey by Muso involving British adults, 53% of users of piracy services agreed that accessing pirated content is wrong, reported Todd Spangler of Variety, an entertainment news website. 35% pirated content due to cost and 35% said they have not found what they were looking for on services or the TV channels they subscribe to. 35% also said the content is not available through legitimate sources in the UK.

Of those who said they accessed pirated content, 83% claimed to find the material through legal means first. Around 91% of those who admit to accessing illegally shared content stated that they pat for a subscription service like Netflix, Spotify, and more. 



The Effect of the Coronavirus on Australian Cinemas

Cinema operators said they are confident of making it through the outbreak, said Paul Donoughe of ABC News, a television channel in Australia. However, others say that relief from landlords will be required and some smaller, independent theaters may not survive during the pandemic. “We are on pause. Everything is frozen. There are no customers. There is no income. There can be no rent for months. And I don't think that's sinking in. I think the Government has to step in to support employers,” said Benjamin Zeccola, chief executive of Palace Cinemas, which has 17 sites in Australia.

Scott Seddon, president of Independent Cinemas Australia and the owner of two venues in the Hunter region in NSW (New South Wales), hoped that no independent cinemas would close for good. Rather, they would rely on rent relief, government assistance, and forbearance from banks.

Cinemas would also need to regularly check if the projectors would function throughout the shutdown, as older units can degrade if they are not turned on for several months, Seddon added. If that happens, cinemas would be burdened with a replacement bill worth tens of thousands of dollars. Film and television production came into a halt, with some studios sending films that were meant to be shown in cinemas to go straight to streaming services. Moreover, Australian cinema owners said they are not afraid about the primacy of the theater experience being shattered post-shutdown.

According to cinema operators, the public would be itching to experience watching the latest blockbuster movies in cinemas. Kristian Connelly, who runs Cinema Nova in Carlton in central Melbourne, noted, “I think people are going to be reminded about how emotionally important cinema is to not just to entertain but to connect."  



No Cinemas? The “Justification” of Piracy

Our need for entertainment will never go away. Muso said in a statement that the exponential rise in visits to online film piracy sites is correlated to an increasing number of countries imposing lockdowns. The increased demand in pirated content can also be attributed to the governments requiring their citizens to self-isolate.

Chatterley, who is the CEO of Muso, said. “Piracy or unlicensed consumption trends are closely linked to paid-for or licensed content. So, just as Netflix has seen large subscriber gains, we have seen a significant spike in visits to film piracy sites.” 

Those from the middle and upper income classes may be able to handle the financial impact of the pandemic. However, most consumers will struggle to bounce back after the lockdown, with many trying to recover from said impact. Even if they have spare money, will they go into theaters to watch movies even if there is potential airborne transmission of the virus via air-conditioning systems? Chances are, they won’t. 

Cinemas in China reopened after three months, but within a week, they were closed again amid fears of reinfection. Cinemas had managed to survive closures for an extended period of time during the Spanish Flu epidemic. This is because cinemas were not competing with TV and streaming platforms at the time. 

In order for us to cope with the aftermath of job loss and job uncertainty, expenditures on luxuries like cinema tickets and entertainment subscriptions will have to be reduced. Our ability to pay for it on a regular basis is impaired because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Streaming illegal content on websites will not be considered as theft considering that we struggle to live through each day of the pandemic.  

Cinemas are emotionally important but with the aftermath of the pandemic, we could expect viewers to be fearful of possible reinfection. Perhaps cinemas would not be the same as before as tickets could be considered as a luxury for those who struggled financially during the crisis. Piracy is a crime, that’s true. But how about those viewers who cannot afford (or are reluctant) to regularly pay for streaming services? Chances are, they will likely pirate content for their entertainment fix. It’s free and for them, it is justified.