Which is the bigger threat to Hollywood: Late theatrical release or piracy?

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Updated August 28

By Steve Hawley

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The movie industry has been full of reports about the postponements of this year’s big movies. Because Warner Brothers insists that Christopher Nolan’s Tenet must be experienced on a big screen, it has been pushed back twice now.

Variety reports that Tenet was released in Spain, in multiple Asian countries, and elsewhere; on August 26, to be followed in some US cities on September 3.  Variety emphasized that there’s so much anticipation around this film that it makes it a “perfect storm” for piracy, which may occur within hours of release.

A quick check with Google Trends for the search term “download tenet movie” on August 28 provides admittedly circumstantial evidence of such interest.

Google Trends search for “download tenet movie” on August 28, 2020. Source: Google Trends

Then there’s Disney, which has decided to go direct-to-consumer with Mulan, for $29 on Disney+ beginning on September 4th; well after its original theatrical release date.  It too will first be released in theatres outside the US.

Why it matters

Both of these scenarios open big opportunities for movie pirates.  Releasing a movie of the stature of Tenet outside the US will result in instant pressure to see it in the US.  How much would a digital pirates be willing to risk arrest for camcording a copy in a non-US theatre?  How quickly will watermarks be attacked so the source can’t be discerned?

Likewise, why pay Disney’s price for Mulan when it wil surely be available through pirate outlets within days of release?

It’s logical to conclude that these studios are fully aware of these risks but are quietly willing – for whatever reason – to take the loss.  An article in Deutsche Welle reminds us that Sony’s Bloodshot prompted a 1,600% increase in piracy in March, and Sonic The Hedgehog saw piracy traffic jump 719%.

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