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The Biggest Threat to Netflix May Not Be HBO

By Brian Byrd | Industry | March 5, 2015 |

By Brian Byrd | Industry | March 5, 2015 |

Pajibiz is an occasional roundup focusing on entertainment business stories - acquisitions, casting news, series pickups, ratings and other interesting newsy stuff that doesn’t merit a full post. If there’s a story or trend you’d like to see covered in this space, too bad, go start your own site shoot me an email at brianbyrdman at gmail dot com. First person to make a Darren Rovell joke gets banned back to the Cretaceous Period.

There’s been increased chatter lately around Popcorn Time, a slick quasi-legal streaming service that provides users free access to reams of movies and television shows. What began as a challenge among programmers from Argentina to create a better online viewing experience has become so popular (US usage grew 336 percent between July 2014 and January 2015) that Netflix addressed the site’s explosion in last month’s quarterly shareholder statement. “Piracy continues to be one of our biggest competitors,” the letter read. “Popcorn Time’s sharp rise relative to Netflix and HBO in the Netherlands, for example, is sobering.”

Spend five minutes playing with the app and it’s easy to see Popcorn Time’s appeal. Organized, attractive layouts, ridiculous selection, and fast-loading HD content make the site a streaming video fanatic’s wet dream. The gorgeous user interface mirrors cable on-demand services and makes Amazon Prime look like a GeoCities site. Movies use official studio artwork and incorporate IMDB ratings. Television series break down by season and include episode summaries. A five year old could pull up their favorite Bob The Builder episode with ease. The UX is so well designed that many users have no idea that they’re utilizing a potentially illegal service.

“Some people don’t even seem to know that it’s BitTorrent,” Ceg Tek CEO Kyle Reed told Bloomberg Business. “We send out copyright infringement notices, and they question why they received them. It just looks like Netflix to some people.”
popcorn time.jpg
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If you spend any time on the Internet, you know that an online platform offering free access to just-released movies and premium television series is likely 17 seconds away from getting its domain seized by authorities in whatever Soviet bloc nation houses the site’s servers. Content developers and the MPAA characterize Popcorn Time as piracy, for obvious reasons. The site developers, however, insist they’re just providing a cleaner, more professional-looking portal for content that exists online already; BitTorrent with 24s and a spoiler, basically. Since the site uses BitTorrent to stream content to computers rather than forcing users to download massive files — and because Popcorn Time isn’t hosting any copyrighted material — there’s an argument to be made that neither the site nor its users violate any laws. It doesn’t appear that any of the 50-odd developers are even making a dime off their work, either. The code is all open source, and Popcorn Time collects no advertising dollars or donations nor is it backed by some shadowy venture capitalist firm. Whether all this prevents Popcorn Time from standing in front of a judge one day remains to be seen.

While piracy remains a significant problem for domestic content providers, Popcorn Time’s US usage is still relatively low compared to countries like the Netherlands (or Holland, if you’re a pretentious taintbeard), where paid streaming libraries are much less comprehensive. North American consumers have displayed a willingness to shell out for reasonably priced streaming content; Netflix’s $29 billion valuation is Exhibit A. Networks and studios can further reduce piracy by offering more affordable movie and TV series options, increased selection and new delivery platforms. Until then, expect Popcorn Time to remain a thorn in studios’ sides.

Nielsen Now Tracking Netflix, Amazon Prime Ratings (But Not Really)
House of Cards’ third season debuted last Friday, which means we have yet another opportunity to discuss Netflix viewership. Quick synopsis: Netflix tracks, but doesn’t publicize, how many people watch their original programming. Nielsen, in a bid to remain relevant in an industry that requires their services less every year, announced last November that they would begin measuring Netflix and Amazon Prime viewership. Of course, Nielsen gonna Nielsen, so their methodology has the accuracy of a drunken knife thrower trying to hit a coked-up mongoose running along the greased deck of a fishing trawler being pounded by the perfect storm.

Inexplicably, Nielsen doesn’t track computer and mobile device viewing, which according to the Hollywood Reporter accounts for more than a third (34 percent) of all online viewing (although they do measure Apple TV and Roku streams). This would be like the NBA implementing the 3-point line but still counting every shot as two points. Not that it matters, anyway. You and I will probably never see the results: all the data is considered “opt-in,” meaning the numbers are exclusive to series producers and other VIPs. Keep up the absolutely atrocious work, Nielsen.

Bottom line: this infographic probably contains the only hard data Netflix will release regarding House of Cards for a while. #TeamFrank

The Godtopus’ Dozen
— America’s four largest theater chains are refusing to screen Beasts of No Nation, the new Idris Elba movie directed by True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga, because Netflix won the bidding war for the rights and wants to make it available on their streaming service the same day it hits multiplexes. Netflix is straight trolling movie theaters now, and it’s great. (Gizmodo)

- Black Mirror is awesome, right? But wouldn’t it be even awesomer with Muricans? (Variety)

- Apparently Agent Carter didn’t make fans hungry for more small-screen superhero stories. Tuesday’s Agents of SHIELD (f.u.c.k y.o.u.r p.e.r.i.o.d.s) premiere drew 15 percent fewer viewers than its winter finale. (TVLine)

- Billions was one of my 10 Most Anticipated Cable Series for 2015 even before Showtime announced the financial drama’s stellar cast that includes Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti and Malin Ackerman. (Deadline)

- Speaking of that list, Cinemax gave an eight-episode series order to Quarry, a thriller about a Vietnam vet (Logan Marshall-Green) who becomes embroiled in a network of killing and corruption that spans the length of the Mississippi River. The former women’s prison network also ordered Robert Kirkman’s Outcast — a horror drama starring Patrick Fugit — to series. (ComicMix, Crave Online)

- Variety put together a long slideshow of all the actors set to star in 2015-16 pilots. Wesley Snipes playing a Las Vegas sniper has to be some NBC exec’s idea of a hilarious joke. (Variety)

- Can you guess which cable network drew the most viewers for Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress? Hint: it rhymes with “box,” and given the average age of their audience, a few watchers probably ended up in one before the Israeli president’s rambling remarks concluded. (TVBytheNumbers)

- A Writers Guild of America study shows that most entertainment writing and producing jobs go to — SHOCKING NEWS AHEAD! — white guys in their 40s. Worse, women and minorities somehow lost ground since last year. “That’s impossible to believe,” said a guy who just got done watching the Netanyahu speech on Fox News. (Deadline)

- Starz, that premium channel you always forget exists until your cable company throws it in for free to get you to renew, reported fourth-quarter earnings ($136.1 million) and subscriber (23.3 million) highs. Outlander (begrudgingly) deserves some credit for the spike. Be interesting if the network becomes a major player when American Gods finally premieres. (THR)

Parting GIFt