Note: This article is an offshoot of Variety Intelligence Platform’s special report “The New Face of Content Piracy,” available exclusively to VIP+ subscribers.
Content piracy is rife in the U.S.
Approximately 23 million U.S. adults (11%) pirated content in the last year, according to an exclusive survey fielded last month for VIP+ by YouGov.
Whilst the vast majority of Americans are law-abiding when it comes to content consumption, a sizable proportion confess to dabbling with illegal downloads or streams for TV shows, movies or live sports. But this doesn't necessarily come down to some wanting to collect every episode of shows they love or a sense of getting one over on massive corporations.
The ever-expanding number of subscription streaming services are a key driver behind content piracy. Close to half of survey respondents who pirated shows or movies said the cost of the content is too high. Individually, that is likely untrue, but the cost of subscribing to every service in order to watch titles wanted is getting steeper and steeper, forcing some to opt for other means.
Yet the cost of watching everything is not the only factor behind illegal viewing. A third of survey respondents who admitted to pirating content said the content being unavailable in their region was a reason for doing so.
This most likely covers international shows, movies and sports rights (often for leagues too small to be profitable for a TV rights deal in the U.S., such as the lower professional soccer leagues in the U.K.) but shows that not all piracy is owed to trying to avoid cost.
The YouGov/VIP+ survey did find that the majority of content viewed illegally was available on a paid domestic streaming service, echoing the findings of the "reasons for pirating" question. With almost every major media company, save for A+E Networks and Fox, having individual SVOD services, this trend shouldn’t be expected to decline any time soon.
The peak TV boom, which saw 2022 hit new heights in total output, may have helped to contribute to over one in three content pirates (approximately 7.4 million U.S. adults) saying they watched more illegal content in 2022 than in 2021. With content spend slowing down, there may well be fewer titles to pirate in 2023, which may see the total volume fall.
Pirating content comes with risks, with some 37% of those watching or downloading content illegally reporting they had a device infected with malware as a result of doing so. Even knowing the risks, millions of Americans still opt to stream or download via illicit means. Content becoming more affordable will stem some of this, but with other content coming from a lack of availability, piracy will never easily be eradicated in the U.S.
Read more of VIP+'s piracy coverage:
• Global Content Piracy Soared 18% in 2022 (Exclusive)
• Most Pirated Titles See Uneven Impact From Streaming
• The Most Pirated Film Titles of 2022
Plus, dive into the original expansive special report ...