The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world over the past year and Hollywood is no exception.
Movies theaters had to close around the world, so studios started experimenting with shorter release windows or got rid of them entirely.
This change was noticeable on pirate sites as well where high content started to appear quicker and camcorded films became a rarity. The latter is true for copies of pirated awards screeners, which dropped to an all-time low as well.
Promising Young Woman, Nomadland & Minari
Late December we covered what appeared to be the start of the yearly pirate screeners season, with leaks from Promising Young Woman, Nomadland & Minari. However, in hindsight, that was pretty much the end as well.
Relying on data released by Oscar piracy watcher Andy Baio, we see that for all Oscar-nominated films only three screeners leaked. Indeed, those are the three that were pirated late last year.
Three leaked screeners is an all-time low. The previous low was two years ago when only seven screeners leaked, or 23% of all nominated movies. This year that dropped to just 9%. For comparison, in the early 2000s pirated screeners came out for nearly 90% of all nominated films.
It may be tempting to conclude that Hollywood finally has the screener problem under control. While it’s true that security precautions have increased over the years, there may be a simpler explanation.
In the chart below, the red line shows the number of Oscar contenders for which a high-quality leak was released before the Oscars ceremony. The blue line represents the percentage of screeners that leaked.
This chart shows that while the number of screener leaks dropped, there was no shortage of pirated alternatives. At the time of writing, “The Father” is the only Oscar contender that hasn’t leaked on pirate sites yet.
Screeners Lose Relevance
Generally speaking, screeners are only of interest to pirates when there is no high-quality leak available yet. After all, there is no point in taking all that risk when there are already superior releases out there. In fact, that’s usually frowned upon.
With the above in mind, it’s easy to see how changes in the movie industry have made screeners less relevant. In recent years we have seen titles from Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services contend for Oscar awards. You won’t see any screener leaks for these films, as they are available in high quality on pirate sites soon after they are released.
This year another factor played a major role as well. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many films had limited theatrical runs and digital releases were brought forward. As a result, high-quality piracy leaks were available sooner than usual.
This means that while there are fewer screeners leaks than ever, there’s certainly not less availability on pirate sites. There’s just no point in pirating screeners when there are already ‘better’ leaks out there.
Time will tell whether this trend will reverse in the years to come. Warner Bros. already decided to end their experiment with simultaneous HBO Max and cinema releases next year, so that may change things. However, with the growing dominance of streaming services, the screener heydays are unlikely to return.
Note: The foreign film and documentary categories are not included in the screener analysis.