Content Cafe


Piracy viewed as less convenient than legal content

by Anna Meadows, Sycamore Research, 18/4/19

The viewing environment has changed beyond recognition in the last decade and in that time our understanding of what drives human behaviour has burgeoned.

In 2017, in the face of a plateau in reported piracy participation, we collected some data that intrigued us. While piracy rates were generally decreasing, the proportion of the 25-34 year old age group pirating was increasing.  At this age, we knew time spent at home increases and time spent viewing also tends to go up (OzTAM 2017). But we wanted to understand more.

Human behaviour is heavily influenced by context. Our decisions are shaped unconsciously by the social, emotional, physical and technological environments in which they are made. Understanding those contexts is critical to helping us, as researchers, explain why people do what they do. 

In order to build hypotheses about why 25-34s reported pirating at higher levels, we needed to “observe” them consuming content – not develop theories only on what they say they do.

Using a new mobile observational platform, 27 Australians allowed us “into their homes”  by recording how, when, where and what they watch.  By collecting and analysing nearly 700 pieces of data including film, image, audio, comments and hashtags we were able to build a picture of the viewing life of our participants. Here’s what we discovered:

Tired times

As the OzTAM data suggested, this group did spend a lot of time with the TV on. They were also very tired. It’s a time of life when the pressure of work, home and young kids is being keenly felt and #tired and #exhausted were the most commonly used hashtags in the study. They liked to stay in, switch on and zone out.

The TV was a comfort, a distraction or a form of relaxation that many would fall asleep to.  This fatigue in many cases meant a frequent passive choice of content, source and device on which they would watch. Whatever required the least effort would win out.

“Whilst dinner is cooking I like to put on something light that I don’t have to pay much attention to. It’s best if there is no plot…”

“After work I usually just throw on the TV for background noise out of habit”

Evening routines during the week dictated the timing of their viewing – a post-dinner or pre-bedtime ritual that might start on the TV in the lounge and finish on a laptop or phone screen in the bedroom.

I quite often find that I will actually fall asleep watching the TV in the lounge room and wake up to infomercials blaring at me… and move myself to the bedroom”

Viewing is still social

Whilst we have all read media reports that say everyone watches different content on different devices at the same time these days, what we observed was that Australians, in this sample, still saw viewing TV and movie content as a social activity.  Film content in particular continues to have the power to bring people together and particularly played a part in the more relaxed and involved weekend viewing at home with partners or kids. 

“So on the weekends we all like to sit in the lounge room and watch the family movies on TV…tonight was The BFG on Channel 7 free-to- air. Watching TV in the lounge room, feeling pretty good with my partner and son…pretty typical for us on a Saturday night”

We also learnt that very clear social rules apply. The tastes of others dictated the choice of what to view in most instances when a family is living together. They will discuss, recommend and agree what to watch. When you are at someone else’s place they implicitly have the power to dictate what is on the screen. It’s simply not socially acceptable to be in someone’s space and choose the content. You can’t turn up at a friend’s house and tell them what to watch –they have the casting vote.

“After 8pm it’s Mum’s choice no matter what!”

Choice requires effort

Thanks to the surge in SVOD options and catch-up services there is more legitimate content available now than ever before and much more than could possibly be consumed in the available time.

Countless studies have documented the paradox of choice. Whilst on the surface we like the idea of having lots to choose from in any situation, the reality is that too much choice is unwelcome. 

“I should make it easy for myself and log into Netflix and use the search function…I find though that if I go to Netflix I get lost in the endless swipey columns”

When viewing, our participants tended to search for ‘something’ rather than ‘something specific.’ They avidly used the tools designed to take the pain out of the selection process – the EPG, apps and especially Netflix-recommended content are in regular use. They didn’t look for the optimal programme or movie to watch, they settled on something they vaguely recognised or that they felt they wouldn’t ‘dislike.’

Again, the easy option tends to be the preferred option.

Piracy is not so easy

So what does that mean for pirated content? The participants selected for this study were those who already admitted to some form of regular piracy. But in these tired times, when there are more low-cost content choices than ever before and more obstacles to viewing illegal content, piracy appears to have lost some of its appeal.

Regulation and the now well-known blocks to sites that provide pirated content has meant that accessing pirated movies and TV shows is not straightforward. There is a need to search for a viable and unblocked site and even then the stream can be slow to load, the high potential of sites harbouring malware and viruses and often the quality of content is not what viewers have become accustomed to. This means that when they do pirate, it’s increasingly planned. 

“It’s a lot of ‘let’s keep clicking’ until we get one that is going to let us watch it…this one opens up a lot of pop-ups and you have to keep going until you get something that works…it’s a lot of trial and error and the best idea is to ask friends and family or on social media for advice on where is the best place to stream [pirated content]”

The trigger to pirate is often a very specific recommendation of content and source from colleagues, friends or family. The legality of the source not questioned – a recommendation is a recommendation, legal or otherwise. Would-be pirates set out on their search with a clear destination in mind. However even this can take effort for those who like to exert as little effort as possible in their viewing.

It is worth noting that an exception must be made for those who viewed via set top boxes loaded with illicit apps. These provided simpler access to pirated content in a context where illicit and legitimate sources rub shoulders and are equally easy to access. Overall, what we observed was a high level of participation at a low level of frequency, reflecting what we had seen in our quantitative piracy data.

The remarkable shift we’ve observed is that the journey to legitimate content is proving a much simpler route when compared with the road to pirated content, which is full of speed bumps.

Piracy, once considered the most “convenient” way to view screen content, is now proving to be far more cumbersome than subscribing to one or more of the many legitimate content sites. To quote everyone’s favourite TV philosopher Homer Simpson, “If something’s hard to do then it’s not worth doing”.

Anna Meadows is the founder of Sycamore Research, an independent research and strategy company based in Singapore. Anna has worked with some of the world’s largest brands, consulted to a diverse range of companies in several countries and has implemented large and ongoing research projects for clients including HSBC, Nestle & Nokia. She has amassed a significant body of knowledge about online piracy through nearly a decade of research in Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and Singapore.