In a recent article about streaming and digital piracy, I highlighted how movie and TV studios are changing their content distribution strategies in 2021. With cinemas in many countries closed for the foreseeable future, media owners are putting more content on subscription and premium video on demand services. Although this creates more options for viewers to enjoy exclusive titles at home, it also raises the risk that the increasing number of streaming services needed to access these titles could result in confusion, subscription fatigue, and digital piracy. In this article I look at some of the data around the subscription model and outline how anti-piracy protection can support content owners.
The Fragmentation of Content
How many subscription services do you currently pay for? If yours is anything like my house, you might not even be able to say without some research!
Thanks to the development of paid-for streaming services and paywalled subscription sites, consumers now have an unprecedented number of ways to legitimately enjoy their favorite music, books, games, and video via low-cost monthly payments. From gaming platforms such as Steam to the newspaper paywalls of many premium titles, the recurring subscription model has become an important way for copyright owners and publishers to build profitable, long-term customer relationships.
As a result of this success, the number of streaming subscription services and the global value in all sectors keeps multiplying. The video streaming industry alone, for example, was estimated to be worth in excess of $50 billion in 2019. Given that Hollywood’s worldwide box office was reported to be $41.7 billion in 2018, it’s clear that SVOD has become an important player too.
When we also include the estimated 400 million music service subscribers and the myriad other platforms for video games and written content, it’s easy to see why more and more companies are either launching new services or restricting the exclusivity of their content to specific channels.
What impact does this have on everyday life? According to data from the UK, average households there now spend nearly $750 USD a year on subscription services. Although this also includes non-media subscriptions such as meal kits, digital content appears to one of the largest elements in this service mix.
In the United States too, it’s estimated that 55% of households have multiple subscription packages, which is up from 20% in 2015. Research from Deloitte showed that prior to COVID-19, U.S. consumers had 12 paid media subscriptions, with Millennials averaging at 17!
One question some have already asked though is whether we are approaching a ceiling (particularly in North American and European markets) for these services. One potential risk for content creators and copyright owners is that if consumers become so overloaded with options that they start to experience frustration and subscription fatigue, we may see a decrease in people choosing legitimate channels in favor of stream piracy.
Is Subscription Fatigue Real?
The research on whether consumers are prepared to continue adding new subscription services is mixed. Some data suggests that there is potential for another 3 billion global accounts before the ceiling is reached, while other pre-pandemic consumer data showed that some users were already tiring of managing multiple media accounts.
In its Digital Media Trends Survey, Deloitte found that 40% of Millennials surveyed felt “overwhelmed” by the number of subscriptions they pay for, with 43% of that cohort already intending to reduce them in future. Crucially, this information was gathered before the events of 2020, and, as more media owners have already made clear their intentions to make their content exclusive to specific platforms, this sense of dissatisfaction may have grown.
Why are consumers becoming frustrated and fatigued?
Predictably, increased cost is the prime actor, but content is also crucial. According to data from Global Web Index, 29% of subscribers are frustrated when content they enjoy is removed from one platform and added to others, while 28% already feel that content is too fragmented across existing services.
With a quarter of U.S. and UK subscribers already feeling overburdened, the fragmentation of content into the “closed universes” of differently siloed services (which has increased due to the global pandemic) may already be at a tipping point of subscription fatigue.
Will Subscription Fatigue Cause More Online Piracy?
Despite piracy falling in recent years (especially in markets where authorized streaming services increased in popularity), there are signs that copyright theft never really left. From password sharing to stream ripping, piracy has diversified, and it’s also clear that even the once dominant P2P networks still remain a problem for content owners, especially in some markets.
Research from Sandvine revealed that in 2011, BitTorrent accounted for 52% of upstream traffic on U.S. broadband, but by 2015, its share was reduced to 26%. While this may have reduced, however, in other markets BitTorrent has proved resilient. In 2018, it had become the highest upstream source in both APAC and EMEA, where it accounted for 32% of all upstream traffic.
And then, of course, we come to 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. As I pointed out in my recent article, “Anti-piracy and the New Economy of Streaming, TV, & Movies”, although the popularity of authorized content channels grew by 71% during the pandemic, stream piracy also increased. The Google Trends data we analyzed showed that stay-at-home orders in spring of 2020 coincided with a year-on-year doubling of global searches for Pirate Bay and other illegal streaming sites.
Partly this growth in piracy was fueled by economic concerns and increased amounts of time spent indoors, but subscription fatigue may also have accelerated consumer readiness to turn to illegal alternatives.
We have already seen in the video streaming industry that 2020 produced more siloization and fragmentation of content, and this may just be the start. For the respondents to a survey by the price comparison service, Broadband Genie, accessing pirated content is much more likely if this trend continues — 37% admitted they would consider illegal content if the market continues to fragment.
Anti-Piracy Protection and Subscription Fatigue
Although the question of how online traffic can be directed to authorized channels is commonly discussed for movies and TV titles, the issue is much broader. Subscription services for ebooks, audiobooks, gaming platforms, music, magazines, journalism, branded content, and more, all face the threat of copyright theft that erodes exclusivity and profits. This is where impactful anti-piracy protection can be used as a counterpoint to subscription fatigue and digital piracy.
Perhaps the biggest problem for individual content owners, publishers, and media companies when it comes to subscription fatigue is that network decisions are taken outside of their control. For example, you may choose to place your book or movie titles on a particular streaming service because the other content on that platform is sympathetic and will create potential additional users.
However, if 10% of users of the service leave it because another title from another company is removed, there’s little you can do to control that outcome. Once those subscribers have left the platform, they lose access to your title as a piece of collateral damage and may then choose to access it illegally. This is how individual content owners can become victims of a much wider market shift.
While you cannot control the competitive landscape entirely, however, you can ensure that when consumers do search for your content, they always come to authorized channels and are directed to paid-for sources. We know that the vast majority of traffic comes from search engines and social media platforms, and this is where anti-piracy protection works best.
Corsearch’s anti-piracy solution, Marketly, uses SEO-optimized strategies to detect, report, and remove infringing listings, resulting in the enforcement of around 15,000 unique domains each month. We are trusted by some of the world’s most prestigious media companies to direct all searchers to authorized channels and so to maximize the return on their investments. With media fragmentation increasingly likely in 2021, anti-piracy can be one of the proactive steps for copyright owners to improve their digital distribution and commercial performance.
To learn more about the piracy protection Corsearch offers, please visit us here and start a conversation today.