‘Expensive’ Streaming Services Are a Key Reason for Americans to ‘Pirate’

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A new survey confirms that the high cost of online streaming services keeps piracy relevant. The findings suggest that one in three Americans have pirated a movie or TV series over the past year. Costs are a key motivator for these self-proclaimed pirates, with the number of legal subscription services and their price tags a key trigger.

pirate flagFor online media consumers, things have improved significantly over the years. More content is being made available on-demand than ever before.

Netflix set the tone a decade ago by offering movies and TV series online as a convenient alternative to piracy. This worked well, so well that more than a dozen other streaming services were launched, all with their own exclusive releases.

While this may sound positive, in some ways it made things worse for consumers. As it turns out, it’s quite costly to have more than a handful of subscriptions and fees may rise to the point where people feel justified to pirate some content to keep costs under control.

This revelation isn’t new. It’s been brought up several times over the years, dating back to at least 2017. And indeed, while most people gladly pay for streaming subscriptions, many use pirate sites and services ‘on the side’ to incidentally watch content from services they’re not already subscribed to.

Academic studies are yet to examine this effect in great detail, but there is survey data to back the theory up. Previously, most UK consumers felt that they were paying too much for legal subscriptions, with half indicating that piracy is a viable alternative.

1 in 3 Americans Pirated Movies or TV recently

New data from U.S. respondents released this week suggests that expensive streaming subscriptions are an issue there too. The online survey, conducted by Cordcutting among a sample of 988 American adults, finds that a third of all respondents pirated TV series or movies in the past year.

Younger people are more likely to have pirated at some point in their lives. For example, 76% of Generation Z says they have pirated content, a figure that falls to 28% for baby boomers.

Piracy habits are relatively stable. Most people who admitted pirating something over the past twelve months indicate that they ‘consume’ about the same as they did earlier. The positive news for rightsholders is that 35% pirate less than before, while just 11% have increased their piracy volume.

Streaming Costs Trigger Piracy

For many people, fragmentation and cost of paid streaming services appear to be key reasons for turning to pirate alternatives. More than a third of the self-proclaimed pirates mentioned the price of legal subscriptions among their reasons.

Of all pirating respondents, 36% said they used unauthorized alternatives because they were only interested in a specific show or movie, which alone was not worth a full subscription. This is close to the 35% who indicated that subscription services are too expensive.

cordcutting survey

The results of these types of surveys should always be interpreted with caution. The formulation of questions can be leading at times, for example, and paid online polls may have a selection bias.

The results make it clear that the price of legal subscriptions is an issue for a number of people. At the same time, however, the majority of respondents didn’t mention cost as a problem. Other popular reasons to pirate include content being unavailable through legal channels, or to avoid advertising.

How to Solve It?

The current streaming landscape is complicated for a reason. Many players are trying to gain market share hoping to become a dominant force. However, at some point more consolidation would make sense to keep costs under control for distributors and consumers.

When asked about possible solutions, many respondents mentioned that cheaper legal services would help, as would stronger penalties for online pirates.

At the moment, rightsholders are mostly focused on enforcement efforts to tackle the problem. In addition to going after pirate sites and services, they hope to introduce site blocking legislation to the United States. That has the potential to deter some casual pirates.

According to the survey, an emphasis on the potential negative effects of piracy could help. Among the U.S. respondents who indicated that they had never pirated anything, malware threats and potential negative effects on the industry were frequently mentioned as reasons.


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