This week, the Motion Picture Association of America released its annual Theatrical Market Statistics Report for 2010. The headline? Box office worldwide set an all-time high of $31.8 billion, an increase of 8 percent over 2009. Lest you get too giddy, however, here’s MPAA interim CEO Bob Pisano to rain on your parade. “[T]he continued theft of movies online will have a sustained adverse impact on movie attendance in the coming years,” Pisano cautioned. “It’s impossible to compete with free.”
Indeed it is, Bob. But you know what illegal pirating of first-run movies can do? Improve your odds in the office Oscar pool! Thus allow us to introduce the Techland Oscar Piracy Matrix™, our modest attempt at making a little lemonade from the estimated $25 billion in lost revenue due to online pirating of Hollywood blockbusters.
Here’s how it works. According to Andy Baio, polymath nerd behind the popular blog Waxy.org, since 2003 some 268 Oscar nominees have hit peer-to-peer networks. Some are bootlegged via cam, some ripped from DVDs or hotel pay-per-view, and some are ganked directly from screeners sent to voting members of the Academy Awards. In fact, since 2003, 93 percent of all nominated films have been available for free online — albeit illegally — before their respective Oscar telecasts.
Now, this rash of lawlessness is obviously tragic — and no doubt causes Mr. Pisano many sleepless nights. But it also provides some interesting data. For instance, this year’s nominated films were leaked 37 days after their theatrical release, on average. That might seem fast, but it’s actually the longest elapsed time in the past nine years. (In 2003, nominated films hit bittorrent sites within five days of release, on average.) Partly this is due to the MPAA being cannier about policing its screeners “The number of leaks of screeners is just a handful compared to what it was years ago,” Mike Robinson, MPAA’s Chief of Content Protection told Techland. Studios are also finding creative solutions to thwart scofflaws. This year, for example, Fox Filmed Entertainment released award screeners exclusively via iTunes.
Such security belt-tightening seems to be working. In years past, typically 100 percent of nominated films had been leaked as high-quality versions by Oscar night. This year, only 69 percent are available for pirating.
But enough history — it’s time for some prognosticating! Crunching all the various piracy-related datapoints reveals that from 2003 to 2010 Best Picture winners met several specific conditions:
1. Their screeners had leaked by Oscar night. This knocks Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right, and — gasp! — Inception from contention.
2. A maximum of 41 days had elapsed from the film’s U.S. release and a viewable copy being leaked. Sorry, 127 Hours and — egads! — The King’s Speech.
3. And since the age of online piracy began in earnest, all Best Picture winners had leaked online within a median of 5.5 days. So bummer for you, Toy Story 3 and True Grit.
Who’s left standing? The Fighter, The Social Network, and Black Swan. A quick look at the three most-trafficked bittorent sites (in the name of science, of course) shows that as of yesterday at noon these films had, respectively, 57, 65, and 47 active files for each film. Although total number of illegal downloads isn’t always a predictor of Oscar success — last year’s most-downloaded film was eventual
winner loser Avatar — a better indicator in this case is the number of seeders, cross-tabbed against the conditions set out above. Again, as of yesterday at noon the aggregate tally for our three finalists on torrent site The Pirate Bay, isoHunt, and Torrentz was 19,355 for The Fighter, 26,413 for The Social Network, and — drumroll please — 40,663 for Black Swan.
Congratulations, Darren Aronofsky! (And sorry about that lost revenue.)