By Eriq Gardner
Andy Baio is an enterprising journalist and technologist who has done some fascinating work over the years tracking how Oscar films are pirated. On Wednesday, he released his latest piracy figures showing historical trends from 2003 to 2010. His conclusion: "The tide may be turning" against Oscar piracy, he wrote.
Baio points out that fewer Oscar screeners leaked this year. Even more surprising, the median time between the U.S. release of an Oscar-nominated film and the leak date (whether by screener leak, camcorder leak, retail DVD leak, etc.) grew. Take a look at this chart he put together:
Good news for Hollywood, right?
After taking a closer look at the raw data, we're skeptical for two reasons:
First, not all movies are equal. Compare the films that took almost no time to leak to the ones that took forever. The ones that leaked soon after release include blockbusters like "Avatar" (one day), "District 9" (two days), "Star Trek" (one day), "Transformers" (three days) and "Up" (three days). The ones that took a bit longer to find online pirates include "Bright Star" (116 days), "Paris 36" (130 days), "A Serious Man" (99 days) and "An Education" (76 days).
Moreover, Baio is showing the median, but had he shown the average number of days to first leak, the story would be different. Here's a graph that charts the two side-by-side. Note that the average number of days before a film leaks has gone up and down throughout the years, but actually sharply decreased in 2010:
The second reason we're skeptical is that not all years are equal.
It's no secret that Hollywood has collapsed its release windows over the years. That has happened in part because studios want to get DVDs into the market as soon as possible to compete with leaked online versions. Baio notes some good trends for Hollywood, but his data also shows that the median length from U.S. release to retail DVD leak is falling.
So fewer films leaking — and taking a higher median time to reach pirates — only tells a very small part of the story. What's missing is a great deal of context about how the concern over piracy is shaping decisions made in Hollywood. The industry of today is radically different than the one of a few years ago.