Film Piracy In The UK

Downloading Dangers

FDA joined forces with the BVA and BPI to commission a comprehensive study from Q2 Research.

In October 2002, initial research was conducted in the UK among 1,440 weekly Internet users to ascertain the current extent of downloading. Further, 1,045 people who currently download either music or film/TV series (legally and illegally) completed an Internet questionnaire over in December 2002/January 2003. In-depth interviews were used to help design the questionnaire.

Main findings

40% of the UK population (19 million people) are weekly Internet users. Of these, approximately 23.5% (4.5m) download music and 3% (570K) download film presently.

Intentions to download film by those already downloading music is high; 22% intend to download film in the next year, which would double the number of people downloading film currently. This is unsurprising, as one-third of these people are already downloading trailers, but not yet entire films.

Factors discouraging people from downloading films are:
  • no access to broadband - yet (but access is increasing rapidly);
  • time taken to download films (mode 3-5 hours for broadband and 11-25 hours for ordinary bandwidth);
  • the film downloaded is not the one they wanted or it has been cut short;
  • a desire to view on a TV screen in a comfortable environment (unlikely with personal computers);
  • poor quality of downloaded films.

Downloaders regard inferior quality as a more significant concern for downloaded films than downloaded music. Poor film quality includes where the image is too dark; the volume is too low or variable; crackling/whoosh; and the fact that it is a camcorded copy is apparent. Films available on the Internet after cinema release are generally considered to be of near acceptable quality; it tends to be the ones before release that are unacceptable.

Who is downloading?

According to our survey, music and film downloaders are likely to be 15-35 years (more men, but women are evident) from southern England. They tend to be active cinemagoers, although cinema forms only part of their film-viewing repertoire.

They are Internet savvy and tend to own much technical hardware, including widescreen TV/digital TV. Most film downloaders are in employment, although students and the unemployed are significant groups. Double the number (80%+) have access to broadband or faster connectivity, than those downloading music.

There are three kinds of freeloading downloaders:
  • For a small group (expert 'hobbyists'), downloading represents not only a technical feat (it's easy), but also a 'win' for the individual over the corporation.
  • The second group is cash-strapped and heavy consumers of all types of filmed entertainment. They download TV series and films because it's cheap entertainment for themselves and the children. Their motivation is to save money and to secure films before their peer group, the neighbours!
  • The single largest group is young people, accustomed to downloading music to make personal compilations. For them, the line between what's legal and what's illegal is blurred.

All groups download because they can watch films for free. One in three download to watch the film before release, or because it's not readily available. There is some evidence that people download to sample the film prior to visiting the cinema or buying a legitimate copy. The outcome is positive when they choose to go to the film/buy the copy, or negative when they take no further action (but have viewed a film that would have been unseen without downloading).

Friends and family teach people to download; few learn just from websites. Films are downloaded primarily from file sharing devices, and one in three claim to burn films, mostly onto CDs (recordable DVD is still a niche market).

Those downloading films are not downloading large numbers of titles. The average is four films in three months, versus 19 music tracks per month. But, a small sector (6%) is downloading 11 films or more over three months.

What conclusions can the industry draw?

It is difficult to define the current effect of downloading on cinema and video. The (legitimate) market trend of rising sales masks the effect of downloading. However, there is a tiny link between downloading titles available before launch in the UK and a perceived detrimental effect on cinema going. Whereas, watching film titles already available at the cinema has no such correlation.

In the short-term at least, we must accept that downloading of films is likely to go on rising - say, to double by early 2004. It will come immediately from those consumers already downloading music and film trailers, then get further boosted by growing Broadband access and equipment upgrades. The latter are both temporary inhibitors to downloading film at the moment.

For the most technically savvy (the minority), beating the Corporates is a game; these players will always seek technical ways to download. The remainder - ordinary consumers - want access to films in their homes for little or no money. The modern cinema experience, out of home, is rightly understood to be state-of-the-art and quite different.

Most films downloaded are only available after their cinema release, so the greatest danger is of damaging the DVD/VHS rental and purchase sectors. But there is still a risk that pirated films, available on the Internet and downloaded even before their UK cinema release, may deter cinema visits.

If you are tempted to download a new film, please stop and think!

Who are you trying to kid?
  • You're only guaranteed to get the real thing in the cinema. Films are made to be shown in cinemas and that's where they look and sound their best. If you're interested in films, that's where you should aim to see them first.
  • The quality of what you download may be poor or variable, and it may not be the complete version. Why waste your time, or settle for second best or worse?
  • If you watch a film without paying for it, you're stealing, just as if you'd nicked a DVD from a shop. Stealing obviously hits the revenue of the filmmakers and everyone involved in the supply chain, including, ultimately, people working in your local cinemas and video stores. Is this really what you intend?