Screeners are advance copies of recent movies that are generally sent out to critics and awards voters for review.
These copies have regularly ended up in the hands of pirates after which they’re widely circulated online. That includes screeners of potential Academy Award nominees, which usually appear around December.
In recent history, hundreds of these screeners have leaked early. In 2015, for example, a a spree of high-profile screeners were released by the Hive-CM8 group. These allegedly came from the talent agency Innovative Artists which was later sued by Warner Bros.
During the past two years, the first movie screeners surfaced even earlier in the season. In 2020, the first ones came out in October and a year later the first leaks appeared in September. These ‘digital screener’ leaks were linked to film festivals, instead of awards show voting.
No Screener Leaks
This year, however, things have been rather quiet on the screener front. While many awards screener links have already been sent off for review, the first have yet to leak to the public.
Looking at recent history, it’s almost unthinkable that no pirated screener copies will appear online this year. For more than two decades they have leaked in significant numbers, often from Hollywood’s own connections. So why would that stop now?
While it’s still possible that a wave of new screeners will come out during the next few days, several developments make that less likely than usual.
Many of the screeners leaked in recent years were published by the release group “EVO”, which mysteriously disappeared a few weeks ago. The group used to post a steady stream of TV and movie releases, not just screeners. This regular posting schedule came to an abrupt halt last month and hasn’t resumed.
EVO’s disappearance was followed by unsubstantiated rumors of an arrest. We haven’t found any hard evidence of an enforcement action but leaking screeners is a risky endeavor that draws the attention of the largest Hollywood players.
There are only a few groups that are willing to take these risks. Even if there are other release groups that have access to screeners, these may be spooked by EVO’s sudden absence.
Screeners Lost Relevance
This enforcement threat may play a role in the absence of leaks this year. The fact that all Oscar screeners are now sent digitally may also help to increase security, although that’s certainly not a silver bullet.
A third and perhaps even more important factor is the overall relevance of screeners in today’s movie piracy landscape.
Piracy groups typically release pirate screeners when there’s no high-quality copy of a movie available online. This was very common in the past, due to the long window between theatrical and Blu-Ray or digital releases. That’s no longer the case.
Today, release windows have shrunk significantly or disappeared altogether. When Netflix releases a new movie a high-quality copy is posted to pirate sites soon after. As a result, a screener of an already-released Netflix title is useless for piracy groups.
The shorter release windows have made screener leaks a rare breed. In the early 2000s, it was pretty common to see screeners of all Oscar contenders leak online before the winners were announced. Last year, the volume dropped below 10% for the first time.
The fact that fewer screeners leak doesn’t mean that piracy is less prevalent, of course. On the contrary, screeners are less relevant because there are other high-quality leaks of the films already circulating online.
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.
All in all, we can conclude that it is certainly notable that there haven’t been any screener leaks thus far this year. However, it’s not entirely unexpected; It’s simply a sign of the time.