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Visibility, not illegal-downloads affects movie sales

One of the oldest arguments on the internet, is whether the illegal download of movies negatively affects sales numbers, especially when it comes to downloads during the film’s theatrical run. Movie studios understandably claim that there’s a direct correlation between a download and a lost sale, while pirates argue that illegal downloads act as a free promotional tool, even sending some people to the cinema after viewing, or at the very least making them keen to find a legal download of higher quality.

Many studies have been published on this, most of which seem to side with the latter group, but one more surely wouldn’t hurt. This one comes from APAS Laboratory researcher Marc Milot and compares download statistics of the top 32 biggest movie releases of the year, with several key factors: number of downloads (based on torrent popularity), pre-release buzz and movie rating. He then cross referenced all of that with the movie’s ultimate box office sales.

As TorrentFreak explains, the study, titled “Testing the lost sale concept in the context of unauthorised BitTorrent downloads of CAM copies of theatrical releases,” found that there was almost no correlation between the number of movie downloads and its success. The metric that had the most effect on sales, was pre-release buzz and to some extent the reviews and ratings once it was released.

This, doesn’t automatically equal lost sales

Torrents on the other hand, seemed to be relatively unaffected by eventual sales. However, they were likely to be more popular if the movie received heavy promotion and especially if the titles were prominently featured on a torrent site, like Demonoid. This could be extrapolated to mean that people often discover new movies through torrent sites. Theoretically then, the promotional argument from pirates could ring true.

“BitTorrent site users appear to be exploring and downloading the most visible movies, without caring how good or bad they are. It is in this way that BitTorrent sites and the box office are completely different systems in which people behave uniquely and with different motivations,” Milot explained.

Therefore, he said, studios and lobby groups should be careful overestimating losses based on illegal downloads, especially when it comes to cam footage.

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KitGuru Says: This is something that many people not employed by movie studios have known for some time, but it’s good to see some more evidence to support the idea. 

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