Pirating the Oscars 2023: The Final Curtain Call

It’s Oscar night! Which means I’m curled up on my couch, watching the ceremony and doing data entry, updating my spreadsheet tracking the illicit distribution of Oscar-nominated films online.

The results are in, and once again, nearly every nominee leaked online in HD quality before the broadcast. All but one of this year’s 30 nominated films leaked online — everything except Avatar: The Way of Water.

But not a single screener for a nominated film leaked by Oscar night — for the first time in the 20 years I’ve been tracking it.

What Happened?

For the first five years of the project, every year from 2003 to 2007, over 80% of screeners for nominated films made their way online. And now, not one screener leaked.

If you’ve read my past reports, you’ll know this is the culmination of a long-standing trend.

Oscar voters still get access to screeners for every nominated film, now entirely via streaming. But they typically get access to screeners after other high-quality sources for the films have appeared online: typically from other streaming services or on-demand rentals.

This is a huge difference from 20 years ago. Back then, screeners were highly-prized because they were often the only way to watch Oscar-nominated films outside of a theater. Theatrical release windows were longer, and it could take months for nominees to get a retail release.

But over time, things changed. The MPAA, often at the behest of Academy voters, was committed to the DVD format well into the 2010s, which became increasingly undesirable as 1080p and 4K sources became far more valuable than 480p resolution.

A shift from theaters to streaming meant more audiences demanded seeing movies at home, shrinking the window from theatrical release to on-demand streaming and rentals. Then the pandemic put the nail in the screener’s coffin, as people stayed home.

You can see this trend play out in the chart below, which shows the percentage of nominated films that leaked online as screeners, compared to the percentage that leaked in any other high-quality format.

In last year’s analysis, I wondered if the time between theatrical release and the first high-quality leak online would start to increase again, as more movies return to theaters and studios experimented with returning to longer windows. That appears to have happened, as the chart below shows, but there may be another contributing factor.

Last December, Torrentfreak reported on the notable lack of screener leaks, mentioning rumors of a bust that may have taken down EVO, the scene release group responsible for the majority of screener leaks in recent years. (Update: Three days after the Oscars aired, those rumors were confirmed. Portuguese authorities arrested EVO’s leaders in November 2022.)

Regardless of the reasons, it seems clear that no release group got access to the Academy Screening Room, where voters can access every screener for streaming, or perhaps the risk of getting caught outweighed the possible return.

Closing the Curtain

In 2004, I started this project to demonstrate how screener piracy was far more widespread than the Academy believed, and I kept tracking it to see if anything the Academy did would ever stop scene release groups from leaking screeners.

In the process, this data ended up being a reflection of changes in how we consume movies: changing media formats and increasing resolution, the shift to streaming, and shrinking release windows from theaters to streaming.

I didn’t think there was anything the MPAA could do to stop screeners, and ultimately, there wasn’t. The world changed around them and made screeners largely worthless. The Oscar screener appears to be dead and buried for good, but the piracy scene lives on.

And with that, it seems like a good place to wrap this project up. The spreadsheet has all the source data, 21 years of it, with multiple sheets for statistics, charts, and methodology. Let me know if you make any interesting visualizations with it.

Thanks for following along over the years. Ahoy! 🏴‍☠️🍿


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