Torrenting isn’t the biggest threat anymore, a new study finds.

Once upon a time, torrent downloading was considered enemy number one by the film, TV, music, and gaming industries.  And before that, it was P2P and web-based downloading.  But torrenting and other forms of downloading are all quickly being replaced by unauthorized streaming sites, according to data released this morning.

In fact, a large majority of traffic for both TV and film piracy is now being hogged by streaming piracy sites instead of torrent-based downloading, with roughly 58 billion visits last year alone according to research group Muso.  “There’s a clear piracy audience trend change away from content ‘ownership’ using P2P/Torrents or web downloads,” the company reported.

Just how large is that?  According to Muso, streaming volume accounts for approximately 74% of all TV and movie piracy online, with traffic to torrent sites dropping sharply.   Muso tracks visits to approximately 14,000 of the largest piracy hubs across 226 countries (yeah, there are a lot of them).  Overall, Muso counted 141 billion visits to piracy sites in 2015.

Part of the reason for the shift is obvious: better internet access throughout the world.  Increasingly, users are starting to live Wifi-soaked lifestyles, with many enjoying near-ubiquitous access throughout the home and other locations.  That includes restaurants, cafes, airports, and airplanes, part of a steady march towards always-on broadband.  “Piracy audiences are becoming better connected, more tech savvy, and know what they want, which is why so many of them have chosen to stream infringing content, rather than download it illegally,” Muso chief content officer Christopher Elkins told Torrentfreak.

But here’s where this gets interesting.  Surprisingly, mobile phones aren’t driving this trend, at least not yet.  Perhaps smaller screens and inferior connections are causing more people to view content on their PCs, Macs, or tablets.  According to Muso, more than 72% of visits to streaming sites are coming from desktops, with mobile consumption still relatively low.


Streaming Piracy



The relatively low volume of mobile access suggests that advances in smartphone technology and access will only propel streaming piracy sites further.  For years, smartphone screens have been broadening, with ‘phablets’ and oversize devices increasingly commonplace.  That said, some users will never curl up to their phones with a bowl of popcorn, at least given the choice between phone and laptop.

Either way, the trend is obvious, and anti-piracy enforcement efforts are likely to shift as a result.  Just recently, leading torrent site Kickasstorrents was dismantled by the FBI and other organizations, a move that follows a multi-year attack on the previous torrenting giant, the Pirate Bay.  But those moves were largely criticized as ineffective, with Kickasstorrents resurfacing days later and setting off another cat-and-mouse pursuit.

Ironically, the biggest, most effective torrent killer is now the streaming site, not the FBI, with users ultimately deciding who survives.  But that shift almost guarantees the shutdown of streaming piracy hubs, with a similar whack-a-mole potentially emerging.

Paul Resnikoff


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