Study: Sites like Hulu make more pirates

The proliferation of legal ad-supported websites like Hulu is contributing to increased piracy, says a study from consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers released on Tuesday.

“Such sites may be causing confusion as to what is pirated content and what is legitimate, free content,” the study said. Of those surveyed by PwC and who admitted to being online pirates, 70% said they also view content legally on ad-supported sites.

A Hulu spokeswoman did not respond to a request Tuesday for comment on the study, which did not name Hulu per se but referred to ad-supported sites that show movies and TV shows.

For its study on behaviors and attitudes related to piracy, conducted last fall, PwC surveyed 202 consumers between the ages of 18 and 59 who said they committed piracy in the previous six months.

The main reasons the digital scallywags said they commit their illegal deeds are price and earlier access to content before windowed distribution. Most said they prefer to stream rather than download illegal movies and TV shows. And 81% said they are likely to continue to use pirate websites over the next six months.

“This study and others like it raise the important issue of combating digital theft, which is of fundamental concern to our industry as well as the overall U.S. economy,” said Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman on Tuesday. He has been among the most outspoken media execs on the issue of piracy. “We are fortunate to have informed and supportive partners in Congress and the administration who are committed to protecting American jobs from this very damaging illegal activity, and we welcome their enhanced focus, particularly on illegal rogue sites, which defraud their visitors and build businesses exclusively on stolen intellectual property.”

Viacom is appealing a ruling last summer by a judge who threw out the company’s lawsuit against Google’s YouTube, alleging copyright infringements of Viacom videos posted on the site and seeking $1 billion in damages.

According to the PwC study, the most that pirates say they would be willing to pay, if they had to, would be $3 for a movie and $1 for a TV show. In the case of a movie, they said they would want the content within a month or less of its theatrical release.

That’s certainly not the price point some media execs have in mind. Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes is considering a premium VOD product that would shorten the window from theatrical release to on-demand from 90 to 60 days and cost consumers around $30 (Daily Variety, Feb. 3).

Yet, the researchers said, “The possibility of obtaining content sooner following a theatrical release is not a compelling-enough reason for most to stop pirating.”

File-sharing remains a big way for movies and shows to be pirated — 56% of those surveyed said they have used sites like RapidShare to download video content. The PwC study did not identify any other site the pirates may be using.

The study suggests the future of piracy is — where else? — on smartphones. Forty percent of those who pirated content via traditional methods said they would probably pirate content on a mobile device in the next six months.

“Mobile provides freedom of access — anytime, anywhere — and the opportunity to explore more and be entertained during what otherwise would be down time,” the researchers said. They also warned that because people have less tolerance for ads on mobile devices, they may be more prone to piracy and skip ad-supported sites.

The piracy issue “won’t be solved tomorrow,” said Viacom’s Dauman, “and we will continue to innovate. But it is encouraging that even among the survey group — made up entirely of people who had engaged in digital theft in the last six months — most understood that using illegal sites was ‘wrong.’?”

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