The Avengers: Why Pirates Failed To Prevent A Box Office Record

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Despite the widespread availability of pirated releases, The Avengers just scored a record-breaking $200 million opening weekend at the box office. While some are baffled to see that piracy failed to crush the movie's profits, it's really not that surprising. Claiming a camcorded copy of a movie seriously impacts box office attendance is the same as arguing that concert bootlegs stop people from seeing artists on stage.

piracyA week before its premiere in US movie theaters, a camcorded version of The Avengers appeared online.

Immediately thousands of fans jumped on the release and according to figures collated by TorrentFreak, in the days that followed it was downloaded half a million times. While this may very well be a record for a “CAM” movie, it failed to exceed the download numbers of several other movies that were available in higher quality.

Record or not, the movie’s distributer Disney must have been terrified by this early release. However, this weekend the suits at the studio were able to breathe a sign of relief, or rather, start popping open the Champagne.

With more than $200 million in box office revenue, The Avengers had the most successful first weekend in movie history. It broke the record set by Harry Potter last year by more than $30 million, despite the “massive” piracy.

But is this really such a big surprise? Not when you look at the numbers.

Of all the people who downloaded a pirate copy of the film about 20% came from the US. This means that roughly 100,000 Americans have downloaded a copy online through BitTorrent. Now, IF all these people bought a movie ticket instead then box office revenue would be just 0.5% higher.

Not much of an impact, and even less when you consider that these “pirates” do not all count as a lost sale.

We don’t think that there are many movie fans who see a low quality camcorded version of a movie as a true alternative to watching a film in a movie theater. The two are totally different experiences, and not direct competition at all.

If anything, downloading a camcorded movie could be compared to downloading a low quality bootleg of a concert. People who download these are collectors, passionate fans, or just curious. But in no way do these bootlegs seriously hurt concert attendances.

The same might be said for advance leaks of games. These pre-release copies are often downloaded by tens of thousands of people, but not necessarily those who refuse to pay. The people who download these buggy and sometimes hardly playable games are often curious game fanatics who tend to buy the official game when it comes out.

The claim that camcorded films are killing the movie industry is nonsense and spending millions of dollars on anti-camcording technologies is simply not worth it.

But does this mean that piracy is not an issue for the movie industry at all? Well not so fast.

A recent study showed that the US box office is not suffering from movie piracy, but that there is a detrimental effect on international box office figures. The researchers attribute this impact to the wide release gaps, which sometimes result in a high quality DVD copy being available on pirate sites while a movie is still showing in theaters.

These high quality copies are more likely to “compete” with movie theater attendance and if a movie is not showing in local theaters at all, it definitely has the potential to impact future attendance.

This is even more true for the DVD-aftermarket and VOD sales. High quality pirated copies are direct competition and can impact revenues.

The challenge for the movie industry is to make legal offerings more appealing than pirated counterparts. Of course it may not always be able to compete with “free,” but there is still a lot of ground to make up when it comes to availability and quality of legal offerings.

But in no way are camcorded copies killing the US movie industry.


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