Note: This article is an offshoot of Variety Intelligence Platform’s special report “The New Face of Content Piracy,” available exclusively to VIP+ subscribers.

After dipping during the great COVID lockdown, media piracy has come roaring back. 

The proliferation of popular streaming TV content and the return of robust wide-release film slates have helped drive steady increases in illicit viewing since 2020, according to exclusive data from piracy-focused research firm Muso.

This data measured 215 billion global visits to piracy websites in 2022, an 18% year-over-year increase compared with 2021. The U.S. unsurprisingly had the largest share of film and TV demand (i.e., illicit streams, downloads and the like) of any country, with more than 13.5 billion visits to piracy sites.

Globally, TV piracy claimed the largest share of traffic, over 46%; film trailed in a distant third behind publishing at just 13%.

The film sector, however, saw a major leap in piracy in 2022, with illicit consumption of film content growing 36% year-over-year. While the volume of wide-release movies remained depressed from pre-pandemic levels last year, the increase from the prior year in high-profile blockbuster titles — such as “Top Gun: Maverick” and “The Batman” — helped fuel renewed demand.

TV piracy, meanwhile, grew by nearly 9% from 2021, driven in part by what Muso calls “unprecedented global increases in piracy demand” for anime series and new big-budget shows, such as HBO’s “House of the Dragon” and Amazon’s “The Rings of Power.”

The streaming revolution has also driven changes in the way audiences consume pirated content. Torrent sites, which utilize a network of computers to share large files, were once the predominant method of piracy, according to Muso; that is no longer the case.

Over the past decade, as legal streaming has become the dominant method of at-home viewing, illegal streaming sites have likewise overtaken downloads as consumers’ primary method of piracy. In 2022, 95 percent of pirated TV content and 57 percent of film content was accessed via unlicensed streaming websites.

Data suggests, furthermore, that users often have what Muso calls “preferred piracy destinations of choice to watch or download content.” Only about a fourth of film and TV piracy in 2022 was directed from search engines, with a whopping two-thirds coming from direct traffic — that is, navigating directly to the piracy site in question.

This may be evidence of piracy’s increasing entrenchment as part of the entertainment-consumption landscape, with consumers using sites frequently enough that they no longer need search to find them.

In short, content piracy is hardly on the wane, even as many film and TV titles have become more accessible and inexpensive than ever. Muso expects film piracy to surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2023, and it seems unlikely that TV’s upward trajectory will reverse anytime soon. Clearly, the industry needs a more creative, or drastic, strategy to combat this rampant phenomenon.

“We are focused squarely on the rise in content piracy, which harms the global economy and disrupts all levels of the entertainment supply chain,” said Jan Van Voorn, Executive Vice President and Chief of Global Content Protection for the Motion Picture Association (MPA) and Head of the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE). “Since it launched in 2017, ACE has grown quickly into the most powerful and effective anti-piracy coalition, now with more than 50 members, working around the world with partners and law enforcement to target and shut down illegal piracy operations. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but we’re making solid progress in protecting the legal creative ecosystem.”

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