The news that Warner Bros. has decided to premiere all upcoming movie titles both on HBO Max and in cinema, was a shock to many movie insiders.
Some star actors feared a loss in revenue and filmmakers, including Christopher Nolan, argued that their work should be seen on the big screen first.
Strong Opening Weekend
The critique didn’t change Warner Bros. plans and a few days ago “Wonder Woman 1984” was the first film to premiere on HBO Max and in cinemas simultaneously. Thus far the results don’t disappoint – the film set a ‘pandemic record’ of $16.7 million in box office revenue in North America.
The film “broke records” on HBO Max as well, according to the streaming company, which said that half of all subscribers viewed it on the first day. This means that more people saw the Wonder Woman sequel during the first weekend than the original.
The Warner Bros. streaming experiment is clearly shaking up the movie industry where cinema premieres were the norm for decades. It’s a landmark decision that is also having a major impact on piracy consumption.
Typically, when a movie debuts in theaters there aren’t any good pirated copies available online. A low-quality camcorded version may eventually appear, but most pirates ignore these, preferring to wait for higher quality copies that follow a few weeks or months later.
The streaming premiere of “Wonder Woman 1984” is a game-changer in that regard. A few minutes after the film was made available on HBO Max, dozens of high-quality piracy copies appeared on torrent, streaming, and pirate download sites, where they were eagerly consumed.
To see just how well the film did on pirate sites and services we’ve collected various samples of download figures from public torrent trackers. With help from I Know, it soon became clear that “Wonder Woman 1984” was massively popular.
Millions of Pirate Viewers
We don’t like to publish hard numbers, as it’s impossible to capture all downloads perfectly, but it’s safe to say that millions of people downloaded a pirated copy of the film via torrent sites. And since torrent sites are only a small fraction of the pirate ecosystem, including streaming and download sites would add millions more ‘viewers’.
This means that the pirate audience could very well rival the number of people who watched the film legally.
Nearly 10% of All Downloads
Just how unique this release was is best illustrated by comparing the relative interest to some competing titles. On the first full day, nearly 10% of all movie and TV downloads (9.18%) in our sample were for “Wonder Woman 1984”. A day later the film still dominated, with 6.26% of all downloads. This translates to millions of downloads on the first two days.
For comparison, the second most popular film of the weekend, “Soul”, only managed to secure 2.37% on the first day and 1.98% a day later. Similarly, Avengers: Endgame, the top-grossing film of last year, took 5.63% of all downloads on the first day a high-quality pirate copy was out, and 4.38% a day later.
Looking at the download locations, we see India in the lead with 17% of all “Wonder Woman 1984” downloads on the first full day. The film reportedly premiered a day early to prevent piracy and was not available for streaming there.
With roughly 10% of all Wonder Woman downloads, the United States is in second place, followed by the Philippines (7%) and Great Britain (5%).
It is safe to say that the numbers we see for “Wonder Woman 1984” are massive and the HBO Max premiere has certainly boosted the piracy figures. But does that also mean that Warner Bros. made the wrong decision?
Streaming premieres are unchartered territory, also for pirates. With a lot of press and PR attention for the film, pirates knew that the release was coming and jumped on it right away. This may explain part of the massive interest.
The question is whether this initial boost will result in more piracy in the long run, or if it’s simply more concentrated in the first days. We can’t answer this yet.
The availability of high-quality pirate copies will undoubtedly deter some people from going to the movie theater or streaming the movie legally. But will there be substantially more pirates than before? And how does that affect the streaming and box-office revenues?
Warner Bros. will likely use the coming months to answer these and various related questions.
Piracy Remains Relevant
The company should be applauded for having the guts to experiment. The audience is definitely the winner here, as they have more choice. And while it’s too early to draw conclusions, it’s probably safe to say that piracy remains very relevant.
Every year we see more and more exclusive movie releases on different subscription services. And since many people can’t afford to access all these services legally, pirate sites and services are seen as an attractive alternative.