In the final days leading up to Christmas, DVD screener copies of some of the hottest movies began leaking to the Internet. Several, including The Revenant and The Hateful Eight, went on to become Golden Globe winners earlier this week.
There can be little doubt that the leaks generated significant additional publicity that otherwise the films would not have enjoyed, but still the big question remains. Will these movies eventually reap the financial benefits of word-of-mouth marketing as a result of their early (not to mention illegal) online appearances?
The battle lines in this debate were drawn early with Hive-CM8, the group behind the leaks, setting out its arguments (by way of an unusual apology) in the dying days of 2015.
“Since everyone is now talking about [The Hateful Eight] we don’t think the producers will [lose] any money [upon theatrical release]. We actually think this has created a new type of media hype that is more present in the news, radio and in the papers than Star Wars, and the promotional costs for this were free,” the group said.
Perhaps needless to say, Hollywood doesn’t share the group’s view on the promotional benefits of giving away free copies of the latest movies before their theatrical release. Last week the producer of The Hateful Eight aired his displeasure and now its the turn of the powerful Copyright Alliance.
Counting the MPAA, RIAA, ESA, BSA, NBA and Getty Images among its members, the Copyright Alliance has more heavyweight entertainment industry support than any other lobby group on the planet. It’s fair to say that the words of its CEO Keith Kupferschmid echo the sentiments of most in Hollywood and he is not happy with Hive-CM8.
In a piece titled ‘Sorry Not Sorry’, Kupferschmid refutes the group’s assertion that their leaks will help movies like The Hateful Eight and pours scorn on their recent apology.
“It’s pretty obvious that Hive’s statement is self-serving, not to mention patently false and ill-informed. Even fellow Redditors derided the group. And while refuting most of their assertions is probably unnecessary, perhaps this incident can be used as a teachable moment,” Kupferschmid begins.
“Specifically, the false notion that piracy amounts to ‘free advertising’ is persistent and widespread. As demonstrated above, proponents contend that piracy is a good thing because it generates buzz that leads to increased sales that more than offset piracy’s harms.”
While discussion around the leaks has indeed been fierce in recent weeks, it’s almost unprecedented for someone like Kupferschmid to respond publicly to comments made by a group like Hive-CM8. It’s doubtful that the group will officially continue the debate, but the Copyright Alliance CEO is certainly clear on his position.
“In reality, Hive’s free advertising justification for ‘The Hateful Eight’ leak represents a fundamental lack of understanding about the film business and the creative industries in general,” he asserts.
“If marketing a new film, album or book was as easy as leaking it online, movie studios, record labels and book publishers would do it themselves. However, when releasing new creative works, the success of these works depends on creating new markets and consumer awareness, which requires far more than just dumping content online.”
Detailing components of The Hateful Eight’s marketing plan, which included a roadshow and the pirate-impossible 70mm Ultra-Panavision format, Kupferschmid underlines the efforts expended by the movie’s producers on the promotional front. He also makes it quite clear that simply dumping content online is a blunt-instrument in today’s complex market place.
“We live in a world where consumers have never had more entertainment choices. While this competition is great for the creative community and for consumers, it also means that connecting with consumers is more difficult and expensive than it has been in the past, and requires a level of creativity and ingenuity far beyond just simply leaking the creative work online,” he explains.
“The notion that a faceless group of Internet outlaws drives audience buzz – more than a creative team’s marketing campaign, advertising, and promotions – is patently absurd.”
There can be little doubt that the level of sophistication required for a leak falls short of that employed by the seasoned professionals involved in the marketing of a major movie. Nevertheless, leaks of all kinds persisted throughout 2015 and the industry still turned in a record-setting $38 billion box office bonanza.
While those kinds of figures make it more difficult for Hollywood to sell the notion that piracy is killing cinema, the idea that piracy is actually good for sales is dismissed by the Copyright Alliance CEO.
“It’s time for the claims that piracy is free advertising and good for creators to fade to black,” Kupferschmid concludes.
For now, Hive-CM8 remain quiet and it seems likely that their screener run has come to an end. There was some excitement a few days ago when a file titled DVDSCR.PACK.2015.XVID.AC3.HQ.Hive-CM8 trickled around one or two secretive private sites, but ultimately it was found to contain no new material.