Content Cafe


The subscription-choice paradox

by Lori Flekser, Executive Director, Creative Content Australia — 26/11/2019

Despite the proliferation of streaming platforms in Australia, a disturbingly high percentage of subscribers to SVOD or pay TV services regularly access illegal screen content.

Findings by Creative Content Australia reveal that 64% of Australian adults have at least one subscription service – up from 50% a few years ago, while 19% have three or more SVOD services – increasing annually. 

Previously, we’ve seen an inverse correlation between SVOD access and piracy – the more services you paid for, the less likely you were to pirate. Now, that’s changing: Australians paying for three or more SVOD or Pay TV services are twice as likely to be active pirates compared to those with just one legal service. 

Why? Because people feel entitled to steal content which is not available on their paid services: a sense that paying for a few, sanctions the consumption of more.

The media is legitimising and enabling this behaviour with a constant stream of articles about how the proliferation of content services will inevitably result in more piracy, with headlines such as: 

  • Ironically, too many video streaming choices may drive users back to piracy[i]
  • Exclusive streaming content set to bring about an increase in piracy[ii]
  • Disney and The Mandalorian are driving people back to torrenting[iii]
  • ‘The Office’ leaving Netflix is going to drive viewers back to piracy[iv]

As long as there is a suggestion that this behaviour is the social norm, this behaviour will be legitimised and will become the social norm. 

Analysts believe we are getting close to the subscription ceiling – what is being called “subscription fatigue” – and that few households will go higher than three or four services.   

Many respondents to Creative Content Australia’s 2019 research study did not consider themselves to be pirates, even though they admit to pirating content.

  • Viewing pirated content doesn’t label me as a pirate. 
  • I don’t download the content, only stream, which makes me less of a pirate. 
  • I don’t put the content online its already there I just download it. 

The principle reason given is that the legal services they subscribe to don’t have all the titles they want to watch 

  • I pay over $200 a month for Foxtel, Netflix and Amazon but there are still other shows I want to watch in Australia, so I download them. 
  • I always try to find an option to watch it legally and I pay for 2 streaming services. If something isnt available on either of those or legally online then I download it. 
  • I only download what I cant get here. 

There’s a minimisation of impact in the belief that occasional or casual viewing of pirated content for personal viewing doesn’t make any difference. 

  • I dont do it too often. 
  • Not a frequent user. Usually get someone else to provide it to me. 
  • I only do it occasionally. 
  • Because I am only doing it for personal use for me only – I see pirating movies/tv shows is when you distribute them to other people. 
  • I am watching it at home for my own personal viewing. 

Sadly, there are no “silver bullet” solutions. Much work is being done to obtain court orders that block websites profiting from illegal screen content, with well over 1,000 domains taken down in the past two years.   

Creative Content Australia continues to track and monitor consumer behaviours and attitudes through research and to use this data to inform the debate about content theft. The organisation also produces consumer campaigns and school education resources to raise awareness about the value of copyright and the impact piracy has on the global and the Australian screen industry. 

I spend a great deal of time urging film professionals to delegitimise this behaviour amongst their friends and family: to speak out about the impact it has on their own professions, careers and livelihoods and to ensure that more content, and more content platforms does not logically translate to more piracy. 

There is no upside to piracy.  No silver lining. No benefit. The theft of screen content online is pernicious, insidious and damaging behaviour. No other industry, no other business model sits side by side with the global availability of their product for free in a few key strokes.

This behaviour is not simply about the loss of backend revenue. It undermines investor confidence and, if accepted as the norm, it changes consumer behaviours in ways that can’t simply be walked back. 

There were 206 BILLION visits to pirate websites in 2018. But, while we are moving into an era of limitless content, time and money are still a limited commodity for pretty-much most people. 

We’re sadly not able to expand time, but millions of people have found a way to deal with the cost issue that comes with accessing limitless content – through piracy. 

Edited version of a speech delivered by Creative Content Australia executive director Lori Flekser at the 2019 Screen Producers Australia’s Screen Forever conference. 

[i]  Karl Bode, Tech Dirt, (April 5, 2019)

[ii] Filippo Cestaro, Reclaim The Net, (July 1, 2019)

[iii] Lauren Theisen, Vice, (November 18, 2019)

[iv] Karl Bode, Vice, (28 June, 2019)