Last weekend, Netflix found itself facing an unusual situation: someone (or some people) calling themselves TheDarkOverlord had grabbed a pirated copy of Orange Is the New Black Season 5 and was threatening to leak it online. The deal was simple: pay up, or be pirated. It was a situation that could belong in one of the streaming service’s own true crime documentaries, but rather than get caught up in the terms being set out by the hacker(s), Netflix decided not to pay up at all. Why? Because the situation is much more complicated than the hackers thought: Netflix is essentailly piracy-proof.
The threat came about when TheDarkOverlord managed to acquire copies of 30-something TV shows by hacking post-production company Larson Studios, whose clients include many industry producers, one of them Netflix. The ransom demand was an important reminder of how important it is for Hollywood to have secure systems at every step of the production and distribution chain. But it’s also revealed just how out of date piracy has become in a subscription age.
Subscription streaming is all the rage these days, with Netflix and Spotify helping to lead the charge. And it’s one that consumers like, due to a combination of accessibility, flexibility and, most of all, affordability. TheDarkOverlord’s threat to release the majority of OITNB Season 5’s episodes on Pirate Bay would be damaging to a traditional broadcaster, which relies upon audience ratings and ad sponsorship for its income. For a subscription site, though, the release of a title early is water off a duck’s digital back. Netflix doesn’t care how many people watch Orange Is the New Black on its opening weekend, not to the same degree, because Orange Is the New Black is just one of hundreds of shows: consumers don’t part with their £7.49 a month to watch one programme, but to access the whole library.
The subscription model is also spreading to other industries too: Adobe, for example, has rolled out a monthly payment system for all of its customers, which means that the days of people downloading Photoshop illegally have been replaced by people paying a small monthly fee that doesn’t break the bank.
While reports now suggesting that TheDarkOverlord has leaked another Netflix original – Jeff Garlin’s detective comedy, Handsome – it only reinforces how much bigger the streaming giant’s operation is than a single title. Without the whole of Netflix being available for free, what’s the point in fiddling with BitTorrents just to see one show a few weeks earlier?
At the same time as Netflix has risen in popularity, data from Sandvine’s 2016 Global Internet Phenomena Report shows that BitTorrent traffic is also down: the torrenting tech accounted for 2.85 per cent of total traffic in the USA during peak hours, which might sound like a lot, but is significantly lower than the 31 per cent accounted for by file-sharing in 2008. Netflix, on the other hand hand, accounted for 35.15 per cent. Asked to comment, the company merely told Variety last week that it was “aware of the situation”. Normal streaming service continued. Conversation over.