Every year Andy Baio does a very cool thing, he tracks how quickly the films nominated for the Oscars got leaked online to P2P networks. It’s interesting for a number of reasons, but primarily for demonstrating how unreliable the actual Academy members themselves are in keeping Hollywood’s goods off the Internet. Every year the results are relatively similar: usually within a week, or sometimes a bit longer, after an Academy screener is released a version of the movie is available for download via Bittorrent (to say nothing of Usenet, Rapidshare, etc.).

pic of movie posters

What would be interesting to see, however, is if the illegal downloading activity spiked after the nominations came out, to see if the file-sharing community is as affected by the hype surround Oscar nominations as the box office often is. Alas, that would be very difficult to study with any great confidence since the data is not really available. In general, though, the most reliable analysis of Bittorrent behavior is provided by TorrentFreak in their weekly top 10 lists, which generally show a strong correlation between mainstream audience taste and downloaders’ preferences, with some notable exceptions, that is, pretty much anything Science Fiction.

A couple of categories get overlooked by Andy, however, including the documentary and foreign nominees, and also whether any of the nominated films are available in HD resolutions. The documentary and foreign films are easy to skip since they barely appear on the radar of most film-goers to begin with, and HD is not something that is too relevant to Andy’s study as all of the official screeners are standard definition DVD’s.

As someone very interested in foreign and documentary films, however, I wanted to see what I could find out about their availability for download. The reality of file trading community is that while it tends to reflect a young, male, tech-savvy demographic, it is also vast, diverse, and maturing. Napster was almost 10 years ago, and the first large-scale video sharing happened after 1998 with the release of DeCSS, early versions of DivX, and The Matrix DVD.

In other words, there are a large number of file traders who have been doing it for some time, and their tastes have likely developed as well. It would not surprise me if there is a large amount children’s video available for download, as the initial generation of traders got older and started having kids. But fundamentally, a savvy video downloader likely has a far better library of available content than any one legitimate service could possibly provide, and that includes the relatively esoteric world of foreign and documentary films, and while not every one of the Oscar nominees are currently uploaded, quite a few of them are.

Two of the documentaries and three of the foreign films have been leaked as screeners, so exactly half of these two categories combined. Better than the rest of the nominees to be sure, but there clearly is some interest at least in these films.

leak dates spreadsheet

On the question of HD, since none of the screeners were in high-def, the leaks of the nominated films in better resolution versions tracks when they became available commercially. My guess is that this situation will change in the future as more Academy members become comfortable with Blu-Ray. After all, Oscar films are precisely the kinds of movies that benefit from a better visual presentation and while seeing them in the theaters would be optimal, if home viewing is the only option, Blu-Ray is certainly preferable to standard DVD. Of the feature nominees in all categories, 13 are available in HD (720p, h.264 codec, mkv container), including two of the documentaries, although none of the best picture films that usually come out closer to the end of the year.

hd leaks spreadsheet

It will be interesting to see what the future holds. How quickly will the studios switch to Blu-Ray for their screeners? My guess is not very quickly as Blu-Ray adoption in general is still pretty weak. Will the studios try other forms of DRM? None the previous systems worked, so that remains unlikely. Maybe a future studio will try to allow streaming of a potential nominee to Academy members, a sort of a closed Hulu approach. That might actually keep the content off P2P networks, but would be difficult to set up and maintain, and might not work for the notoriously non-techy Academy.

This post by Bruce Lidl originally appeared on Digitalwerks.org. Bruce is an expert in PR, marketing, community outreach, and social media and especially interested in the intersection of HD and P2P.

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