The Oscars are the most anticipated movie awards show of the year, closely followed by hundreds of millions of movie fans around the world.
This year’s ceremony was initially delayed a few weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. The show itself was more intimate as well, with a much smaller audience than usual, also on TV.
In the end, however, the aesthetics are pretty much irrelevant. It’s the winners that matter and with three Oscars including the crown jewel of the best picture, “Nomadland” came out on top.
Oscars, PR and Piracy
Winning an Oscar is arguably the best thing that can happen to a movie. It significantly raises the public’s interest, which directly translates into sales. However, there is a ‘darker’ side to this success as well.
Over the years we have seen that Oscar winners tend to do very well on pirate sites. This issue was also bought up by piracy tracking firm MUSO a few weeks ago, which warned that the legal unavailability of Oscar winners could do a lot of harm.
In recent weeks we have kept a close eye on the key contenders to see how these were doing in pirate circles. Previously, we already showed that the nominations significantly boosted the interest in the top contenders, but a big surge in pirate downloads was expected this week.
To capture this effect we looked at a sample of torrent downloads of the Best Picture winner “Nomadland,” contrasting it with another contender “Judas and the Black Messiah”. The timeframe starts on Monday, April 19, and ends on Tuesday, March 27, two days after the Oscars were announced.
Because both films were nominated in the “best picture” category and since “Judas and the Black Messiah” won two awards in smaller categories, we decided to add the non-Oscar contender “Honest Thief” as a control movie.
The results in the graph below clearly show that “Nomadland” downloads increased more than 1000% from less than 15,000 last Monday to over 173,000 a week later. “Judas and the Black Messiah” also saw a sizable 400% increase, but that pales in comparison to the Best Picture winner.
Meanwhile, there is no significant change in downloads for “Honest Thief,” which sees a stable stream of downloads. That confirms that these increases are indeed driven by the Oscars.
What was perhaps more surprising when we looked at the data is that the number of estimated downloads in our sample already started to increase before the awards ceremony. Downloads on pirate sites have been relatively stable for Nomadland, hovering around 10- 15,000 over the past month, but in the week leading up to the Oscars they picked up.
The Friday before the Oscars the number of downloads had roughly doubled and on Saturday they had tripled. This suggests that pirates were already downloading the top Oscar contenders before the awards were handed out.
A broader overview of the estimated downloads for Nomadland starting early March, 10 days before the nominations, shows that the initial nomination boost mid-March pales in comparison to the surge after it won the Oscars.
While we don’t have access to detailed legal viewing and sales data, we expect that the interest through official channels peaked as well. Winning an Oscar is great PR for a film, after all.
Aside from the increase in piracy the days before the Oscars, these results don’t really come as a surprise. If Hollywood can learn anything, it’s that Oscar contenders should be widely available through legal channels.
Unfortunately, availability was lacking in several countries this year, which pushed some people to pirate sites. Luckily there’s another chance in 2022.
Note: The data used in this article comes from Iknow, which tracks torrent downloads through DHT and PEX. While it may not be able to track all downloads, it’s a substantial sample, which acts as a good proxy for the overall interest on all pirate sites and services.
It is worth stressing that this sample only looks at torrent downloads. Views on streaming platforms, direct downloads, and other piracy sources can’t be measured directly. That said, we assume that the trend will be similar there.