What’s on, matey? Online piracy helps Netflix decide which shows to buy


Online piracy isn’t all bad, if you ask Netflix. TorrentFreak reports that the streaming giant regularly checks out illegal file-sharing platforms to help it decide which television shows and movies to add to its service. The more popular certain content is among online pirates, the higher chance it has at ending up in your Watch Instantly queue.

“With the purchase of series, we look at what it does well on piracy sites,” said Kelly Merryman, vice president of content acquisition at Netflix, in an interview with Tweakers, a Dutch publication. (Netflix just launched in the Netherlands last week.) For example, said Merryman, the decision to acquire the streaming rights to TV series “Prison Break” was partially influenced by the show’s popularity as an illegal download. “Prison Break is exceptionally popular on piracy sites.”

There are, however, certain types of shows that Netflix won’t touch, according to Merryman, no matter how many people pirate them. Live contest shows, like NBC’s “The Voice,” are among them because they “are better suited for live TV.” News broadcasts and sporting events also fall into this category, she said.

Netflix isn’t the only company using piracy numbers to gauge the popularity of certain content. As Bloomberg reports, even major studios see illegal downloads as an indication of success.

“Generally speaking, we view piracy as a proxy of consumer demand,” wrote David Kaplan, head of Warner Bros. anti-piracy wing, on the website of this year’s Anti-Piracy & Content Protection Summit. “Accordingly, enforcement related efforts are balanced with looking at ways to adjust or develop business models to take advantage of that demand by offering fans what they are looking for when they are looking for it.”

Netflix has long positioned itself as an alternative to privacy, claims company CEO Reed Hastings recently reiterated in an interview. “Netflix is so much easier than torrenting,” he said. “You don’t have to deal with files, you don’t have to download them and move them around. You just click and watch.”

While piracy statistics may be useful to content creators and distributors, that of course does not mean that companies are not still trying to stop illegal file-sharing online. A study last year from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, for example, shows that Hollywood studios and software makers regularly monitor BitTorrent sites like The Pirate Bay to identify pirates.

If you want to start making bets on which movies Netflix may scoop up next, keep tabs on TorrentFreak’s “10 Most Pirated Movies of the Week.”

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