Pirated Oscar Screeners Have Become a Rare Breed

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Twenty years ago, screener copies of all Oscar-nominated films leaked online before the official awards ceremony. Today, screeners have become a rare breed. This isn't only the result of increased anti-piracy protection. In fact, the shift to shorter release windows and streaming premieres likely had a much bigger impact.

oscarsThe Oscars are the most anticipated movie awards show of the year, closely followed by hundreds of millions of movie fans around the world.

It’s also a special event for movie pirates. Traditionally, the Oscar winners see a surge in unauthorized downloads. And in anticipation of the big day, pirated copies of award-screeners would often leak early.

From 100% to 9%

In the early 2000s, it was pretty common to see screeners of all Oscar contenders leak online before the winners were announced. This has changed dramatically over the years. In the past decade roughly half of all nominated movies leaked as a screener and, last year, this percentage dropped below 10% for the first time.

New data released by Oscar piracy watcher Andy Baio suggests that the downward trend continues. For all Oscar-nominated films of this year, only three screeners leaked, which is on par with last year’s all-time low.

pirate screener stats

Granted, there are still a few weeks to go before the awards ceremony. However, typically all screeners have come out already in February, so it is safe to say that the downward trend is intact.

The same graph also includes another key statistic. The number of “high-quality” leaks remains very high. These are ripped HD streams or Blu-Rays that are not screeners. Last year, a high-quality copy of all Oscar contenders was available before the awards, and this year 88% leaked already.

Screeners are Rare, Leaks Aren’t

This means that, while screeners rarely leak nowadays, leaks are still quite common. This can in part be explained by a drastically changing movie industry and the rise of streaming services.

Of all films that were nominated for the 94th Academy Awards, more than half premiered on a streaming service. Netflix has a dominant position, but HBO Max and Disney+ contributed to this change as well.

When a film premieres on a streaming service it’s generally available on pirate sites on the same day. These non-existing release windows are different from the months people have to wait for some theatrical-only releases.

As a result, pirates can get their hands on unauthorized copies of the movies much quicker. This effect is nicely illustrated by the median number of days between a movie’s official release and a pirated leak. That number tanked after 2020.

media leak

This doesn’t mean that screeners no longer exist in the streaming era. Depending on the release date, voters still need early access to a Netflix or Disney+ film if it’s not on the platform yet.

‘The Power of the Dog’ Screener

This was also the case for “The Power of the Dog,” which leads the Oscars field this year with 12 nominations. The film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst, was released on December 1st but a screener copy already leaked last September.

Several other Netflix titles also leaked early but none of them were nominated. These leaks are not necessarily awards screeners. Information we received from the leaker suggests that they are linked to film festival screeners.

The other Oscar-nominated films that had leaked screeners are “Cyrano” and “Drive My Car.” These are not streaming releases but the latter has an interesting angle, as it was leaked by a group that used the “OSCAR” tag. This was prophetic, as the Japanese film received four Oscar nominations.

We expect that the screener heydays will never return. Pirates will still publish them if there’s no high-quality copy online yet but with shorter or non-existing release windows, there are simply fewer opportunities.

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