The Oscars is the most watched awards show of the year, closely followed by hundreds of millions of movie fans around the world.
On Sunday, Hollywood’s finest gathered at the red carpet once again. Bohemian Rhapsody, Black Panther, Green Book, and Roma emerged as the big winners, all winning multiple awards.
Elsewhere in Hollywood, there may have been a celebration of a different kind as well. The months leading up to the Oscars is usually a time when some of the most high-profile leaks take place. However, this year there were fewer screener leaks than before.
Many of the screeners that appear on pirate sites are linked to the Oscars. The films are sent out to voting members and, despite tough security measures, some always fall into the hands of outsiders.
This also happened this year. With “Green Book” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” the first pirated DVD screeners made their way onto various pirate sites in December. However, the rate at which the screeners have leaked this year is significantly lower than before.
Relying on data released by Oscar piracy watcher Andy Baio, we see that screeners for only seven of the nominated* films leaked before the awards ceremony. That’s roughly half of what we were used to seeing during previous years.
As can be seen below, the number of leaked screeners has gradually declined over the past decade-and-a-half, from a high of 29 in 2007 to seven this year.
We should be cautious of drawing strong conclusions, but there are some hints that could explain the drop. According to the pirate release group EVO, which leaked “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” the security on the DVD they got their hands on was stronger than before.
“From what I’ve seen, doing Ralph, the DVD protection on it was increased, since it was a nightmare to crack,” a EVO team member informed us previously
Hive-CM8, the group that was responsible for most leaks in recent years, also signaled a possible reason for the slowdown. The group apparently lost access to its mail and website, which meant that many important contacts are gone as well.
“Since we lost our site/mail with no backup and with it all contacts gone, it’s quite complicated to get things going this year. We want to get things back as they were, but it will take time,” they said early on.
It’s also worth noting that there’s a limited number of groups getting involved in these screener leaks. Perhaps it’s harder to get access nowadays, or other groups simply decided to avoid these high profile releases, as they are associated with a higher risk.
Finally, the state of the movie industry may also play a significant role in the decreased number of screener leaks. This is a point that was previously raised by Andy Baio.
Screeners are generally only released if there is no higher quality leak out already. Since release windows are getting smaller and WebRips and Web-DLs are more common, screeners are less relevant. This is also what we see in the data.
The graphs below show the number of leaked screeners dropped from more than 75% to under 25% over the past several years. However, the number of high-quality leaks remained fairly constant, around or above 90%.
As a concrete example, Netflix’s Oscar nominee “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” was already out on pirate sites as a high-quality WebRip in November, before the screener version went out. Also, Netflix’s big Oscar winner Roma leaked in a high-quality format a few days after the first screener was sent.
When high-quality releases are already available, release groups have no incentive to put a screener version out. Hence, there are fewer screeners by definition.
While there’s no doubt that the number of leaked screeners at the Oscar night was at an all-time low this year, it’s hard to pinpoint a single reason. Perhaps all the factors mentioned contributed to the drop, one way or another.
In any case, it’s unlikely that we will ever see 29 leaked Oscar nomination screeners in one year again, as happened in 2007. However, the widespread availability of high-quality leaks shows that piracy remains a challenge for Hollywood.
* – Foreign film and documentary categories are not included