Is Warner Bros. Tracking Piracy In Hopes Of Turning Pirates Into Consumers?

There are few issues in media more contentious than piracy. End users want everything for free, and because it is often possible to get quite a lot for free, a lot of justification goes on to defend the practice. Content owners become incensed when they see revenue streams closed off, and respond with outrageous lawsuits and protective practices that are frustrating to pirates and paying customers alike.

Warner Bros. seems to be taking a different path to dealing with piracy, accepting that it is is going to happen, and collecting data about how the company's content is shared for use as market research. In other words, there's an understanding that piracy patterns reflect what customers want. A forward-thinking approach to piracy from a major studio? Shocking!

PaidContent reports that, at the recent Content Protection Summit in LA, Ben Karakunnel, director of business intelligence at WB's anti-piracy unit, described how the company is tracking piracy, with implications that it is then using the data to adjust distribution tactics. The idea is based on the awareness / common sense understanding that most pirates are also consumers, and that by providing what people want, the company might regain some of the revenue lost to piracy.

The article has one very telling statement: Karakunnel told it, WB has evolved to the point where internal sales reports distributed to WB executives now come complete with stats on how a particular program is faring on the internet's black market.

At this point most of Mr. Karakunnel's statements are simply relating data points, such as the fact that TV piracy is a female-dominated act, and that a heavy usage of streaming and linking sites is key to TV piracy. But movies still dominate the general piracy landscape, with 65% of downloads of Warner Bros. related content being films and the 35% balance being TV. The company is also looking into how legit sites like Facebook are used to disseminate links to illegal content. (Yeah, WB is in yr HDD, spyin' on yr statuses.)

And there are suggestions for future tactics in a couple admissions of how business was changed based on piracy overseas. WB notice that pirated-dubbed and subtitled copies of English-language content turns out to be quite popular. "If we can get dubbed or subtitled language versions in the first two days, we can beat them to the punch," the exec says.

And in the UK, while episodes of The Vampire Diairies weren't scheduled for broadcast until well after their US debut, the show was offered for sale via iTunes only a day after the US broadcast, thereby creating and capturing a market that otherwise would have gone to piracy.