The most pirated movies and TV shows of 2015

A year of growth for illegal — and legal — downloads. PLUS: What lies ahead.

The most pirated movies of 2015

  1. Interstellar - 46.8 million downloads
  2. Fast & Furious 7 - 44.7 million
  3. Avengers: Age of Ultron - 41.6 million
  4. Jurassic World - 36.9 million
  5. Max: Fury Road - 36.4 million
  6. American Sniper - 33.9 million
  7. Fifty Shades of Grey - 32.1 million
  8. The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies - 31.6 million
  9. Terminator: Genisys - 31 million
  10. Kingsman: The Secret Service - 30.9 million

Source: Excipio

The most pirated TV series of 2015 (most downloaded single episode)

  1. Game of Thrones- 14.4 million downloads
  2. The Walking Dead - 6.9 million
  3. The Big Bang Theory - 4.4 million
  4. Arrow - 3.9 million
  5. The Flash - 3.6 million
  6. Mr Robot - 3.5 million
  7. Vikings - 3.3 million
  8. Supergirl - 3 million
  9. The Blacklist - 2.9 million
  10. Suits - 2.6 million

Source: TorrentFreak

Video piracy is on the rise, according to stats released by research outfit Excipio and industry news site TorrentFreak.

Excipio says Interstellar was the most pirated movie of 2015 with 46.8 million downloads — well ahead of last year's top-dog The Wolf of Wall Street with 30 million downloads.

And TorrentFreak says Game of Thrones was the most pirated TV series for the fourth year in a row. Its most popular episodewas  downloaded 14.4 million times compared to last year's high of 8.1 million.

The rise came despite a proliferation of legal alternatives.

Here, Sky TV began streaming Game of Thrones the same minute it broadcast on the east coast of New York, and added the show to its Netflix clone Neon.

Game of Thrones was also the centre piece of HBO's new HBO Now app, which launched in April and by July had between 1 and 2 million subscribers by analyst estimates (HBO's parent company, Time Warner, has not released a number). Such direct apps (Showtime also has one) will be a fascinating area to watch, given they cut out middle men old (Sky TV) and new (streaming video on-demand aggregators). Interestingly, they were a potential competitive threat raised by Lightbox CEO Kym Niblock when I interviewed her late in 2015 (for now, neither Spark's Lightbox nor Neon have much to worry about; HBO Now is US only and cracked down on NZ users. It's also pricey; at $US14.99 a month it's almost twice the price of Netflix et al.

Netflix (easily the largest SVOD service) also had a good 2015. In July, the company said it had 41 million paying subscribers in the US, up from the year-ago 35 million.

And total paid international subs increased to 21.6 million from the year-ago 12.9 million as Netflix launched in several new countries, including Australia and NZ, and added bodies in others.

Personally, I think it's pretty shabby to illegally download a movie or TV series at a time when there are so many low-cost options within easy reach (sadly, the Global Mode case — so one-sided from a financial resources point of view -- was settled in June before it went to court. But there is lots of mainstream legal opinion that accessing the likes of Netflix US, Hulu, BBC iPlayer etc is within the law, if not each service provider's terms and conditions, as an online version of parallel importing).

But if you did hit the Torrents, you can — surprisingly — sleep easy.

The Screen Association NZ, which represents the major Hollywood studios, has yet to issue a single infringement notice under the three-strikes file sharing law. The lobby group says it wants automatic screening at the ISP level, and lower infringement notice fees (the file sharing law has also collapsed on the music side of things).

The key lesson here is that, legal or illegal, streaming is on the rise. The key stories for 2016 around this phenomenon will whether Sky TV can reanimate subscriber numbers and profit squeeze with its $120 million decoder upgrade project (already well under way; see NBR's review here), and whether Netflix NZ, Lightbox, Neon or Quickflix will win the SVOD war or whether they will simply cut each other's throats.

The really scary thing, for all players, is that even the dominant *Netflix loses money if you strip out the profit from its legacy DVD rental business.

It could be that Spark decides to use Lightbox as a loss leader, and makes a big sports play as British Telecom did in the with its multi-billion pound bid for top-flight soccer rights. But we'll likely have to wait a lot longer than 2016 to see how that plays out, and whether shareholders will have the stomach for a long fight.

*None of the contenders have released figures for NZ, but this survey by the ACCC (Australia's equivalent to the Commerce Commission) finds 1) rapid take-up and 2) overwhelming market share for Netflix.

POSTSCRIPT: I've focussed on broadcasters, but it's worth noting movie theatres had a record box office in 2015 amid all the downloading.

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