Have video pirates lost their enthusiasm for the new SHORT TREKS mini-episodes being released by CBS…and possibly for new Star Trek in general? If so, then it’s a sorta good news/bad news situation for CBS. The good news is that video piracy hurts the bottom line for CBS. So if folks are downloading Discovery and Short Treks without paying a subscription fee (to either All Access or Netflix), that’s potentially money out of CBS’ pocket. So less piracy is a GOOD thing, right?
Well, here’s the bad news. Video piracy is also a barometer, of sorts. Does decreased interest in Short Treks by pirates imply that the general public is also not interested? And what makes me say that video pirates are losing interest in Short Treks in the first place?
It all began early last month while I was having dinner with a friend (who shall remain nameless) who illegally downloads Star Trek: Discovery and Short Treks. For the record, I personally do NOT do this, and I subscribed to CBS All Access from October 2017 through February 2018. Here’s my e-mail receipt from them…
So just to be clear, I am NOT endorsing video piracy in any way. This blog is simply looking at an existing trend from a journalistic perspective. Video piracy (or any kind of digital piracy) is illegal and should not be attempted by anyone reading my blogs.
And now that that’s out of the way, back to my story…
At the time we’d gotten together, I’d only watched the first of the three Short Treks episodes released thus far. So I asked my friend what he’d thought of the other two…figuring he’d already downloaded them illegally. Turns out he hadn’t.
“Yeah, it’s funny,” he told me. “The whole first season was usually up on The Pirate Bay within a day of being broadcast. The episodes were always easy to find. But so far, only the first Short Trek has been uploaded, and I can’t find the other two episodes…even a month later!”
He took me over to his computer to show me what he was talking about, and I grabbed a couple of screen caps. He’d searched for “Star Trek Discovery” and got this really long list (204 matches)…
Then he searched for “Short Trek” and got the following (only 2 matches, both of them for “Runaway”, the first Short Treks episode)…
Was this for real??? Had video pirates so completely lost interest in Star Trek that they weren’t bothering with Short Treks at all? If so, this was definitely blog-worthy!
But I needed to know more, and as it turned out, there was a LOT I did not yet know about this underworld of what is known as “peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing” (the illegal kind).
The first thing I needed to do was find more pirates. My friend is only one guy, and he admits to being a bit of a novice when it comes to this sort of thing. He uses The Pirate Bay because it’s the biggest site, and it’s the only one he knows about. (I later discovered that Google blocks search results for many illegal file sharing services, so they’re hard to find if one doesn’t already know where to look.)
I reached out to the Fan Film Forum community on Facebook to ask if anyone was pirating Discovery and Short Treks rather than paying for it on a subscription service. I assured everyone that all respondents would be kept 100% anonymous. Eight people responded (including a few I knew pretty well but didn’t know were pirating). Of those, about half couldn’t help me because they weren’t downloading Short Treks and couldn’t give me a comparison what what happening during Discovery season one and now.
The others, however, were quite enlightening.
Are video pirates really losing interest in Trek?
I won’t bury the lead. Yes, there does seem to be a falloff recently in video pirates providing copies of Short Treks for others to download. BUT!!! It’s a bit more complicated than that…
First, let’s discuss The Pirate Bay (or “TPB” as it’s affectionately known). Although currently the leading P2P sharing site, it’s in danger of losing that distinction. One of its major problems began in 2009 when the Swedish founders of this site were convicted of criminal copyright infringement in a Swedish court. And even though they spent only minimal time in prison, the site itself was shut down and seized multiple times (imagine that!) and banned in certain countries. That said, the Internet can be a persistent little hydra, and TPB always seems to pop again with new web addresses to keep operating.
However, the intermittent and unexpected shutdowns are taking their toll on TPB’s popularity. One of my pirates (I’ll call him “Pirate A” from the U.K.) said that TPB “…has had a lot of downtime lately as a site. So a lot of people are migrating away from it. I usually use a site called 1337x. But I also limit myself to 2 or 3 uploaders that are ‘bigger’ groups. I get all my movies from either ETRG (extra torrent release group) or YTS (yify torrents). For TV shows I ONLY use ETTV(extra torrent tv). They usually have 100 seeders for every show.”
Let’s pause there and unpack that a little. When Pirate A says “bigger groups,” what he means is that there are groups of pirates that gather together to turn pirating into a money-making business…and a major one at that! (What…you didn’t think pirates share stuff out of the goodness of their hearts, do you? They’re PIRATES!)
Pirate B (from Germany) provided this eye-opening explanation of how piracy can be quite lucrative if you do it right…
The people who actually pirate stuff and release it for free on bittorrent and the one-click-hosters are called “release groups.” They actually buy the DVDs and Blu-Rays and even set up cameras in cinemas. Sometimes the cameras are even set up by the owner of the cinema. Crazy, right?
As you might have already guessed, they do this because they earn really good money from pirating this stuff. “How?” you may ask? Well, pages like “The Pirate Bay” earn 6-digit numbers on advertisement every MONTH!! In order to keep it that way, they need to be the ones with the most stuff, and the ones who got it first. So they pay the release groups to upload the stuff they have to “The Pirate Bay.” And the higher the demand, the more is cashed out to the release groups.
Wow…I had no idea!
So when Pirate A talks about getting his stuff only from the “bigger groups,” he’s referring to these piracy “businesses” which grab and provide either bit torrents or one-click hosting (an alternative to bit torrents) copies of TV shows and movies—and probably music, ebooks, software, etc.
Pirate B added one final tidbit…
So you might already see where this leads to: you can only find stuff that is popular among the Generation Y and Z, as these are the people that have grown up with the internet, know its potential and where to get stuff.
And what does that mean for the “Short Treks”? Right, they are not very popular, so you can’t earn money on them and that’s why they are hard to find.
Pirate A confirms that Short Treks are harder to find…although not impossible. He reported to me that “Runaway” (the first Short Treks episode) currently has 500 seeds. A “seeder” is someone providing a source file for others to copy from. The second episode, “Calypso,” has 270 seeds (when he checked), and the third episode, “The Brightest Star” (which had just come out), has about 400 seeds. In contrast, the latest episode of The Flash has nearly 2,700 seeds .
Now, for comparison, Pirate A reported that, right now, season one of Discovery has about 200 seeds per episode on average. But “…you get a lot of seeders right when an episode is released, and then it drops off as new stuff comes out.” So it’s not really fair to measure Short Treks to season one of Discovery right now…and I don’t have the seeder count for Discovery from a year ago when those episodes were first airing.
So is this bad news for CBS?
Well, according to Pirate B, low demand for a show results in low supply of seeds, and Short Treks is relatively low. And while CBS would surely prefer that there were no pirating going on whatsoever, if piracy is inevitably gonna happen no matter what, then they’d probably prefer that their shows be “in demand” rather than generating low interest.
However, as Pirate A pointed out to me, this isn’t simply a case of few people wanting to see Short Treks. There’s a lot more going on here. While Discovery was carried on CBS All Access in America, Space TV in Canada, and on Netflix internationally, Short Treks is airing ONLY on All Access. And it’s not really being advertised internationally, as CBS has no reason to spend money touting a show to people who won’t be able to watch it anyway. Netflix isn’t advertising Short Treks because they’re not offering it. So as strange as it may sound, many folks in Europe and elsewhere might not even be aware of Short Treks’ existence! And that, of course, would certainly explain the lowered demand.
But obviously, at least SOME Trekkies outside of America probably wanna see Short Treks, right? Well, that leads into another interesting wrinkle, which Pirate B explained…
Coming from a German perspective, the fact that “Short Treks” episodes are not on Netflix makes them even more unpopular, as they can only be watched in English. But people in Europe are used to watching American TV shows synchronized with their native language. In case of Discovery, Netflix is actually paying for the language synchronization in Europe—and they usually do this only for their own shows, as movies will be synchronized by the studios and TV shows by the TV network owning the free-TV rights to that show.
So let me conclude: No network station to synchronize the “Short Treks,” no Netflix, no advertisement for the show… nothing. It’s like the whole world, except for the US and Canada, doesn’t know the “Short Treks” actually exists.
And that’s why they are so hard to find on pirate websites.
What are the potential repercussions for CBS?
Well, this all might be much ado about nothing. Sure, the rest of the world might not know about Short Treks because Netflix isn’t carrying the mini-episodes, but Netflix viewers were never the intended target audience. From what I’ve been told, CBS wanted to get something up quickly and cheaply primarily as a pitch to All Access subscribers who currently watch NFL Football.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the vast majority of viewers of All Access, according to a source at CBS Interactive, are reportedly watching NFL football games. Of the 2 or 2.5 million All Access subscribers, only about 250K-500K of them watched Discovery episodes last year. But three or four times as many (I don’t have a specific number) watch NFL Football during the regular season from late summer through the end of December. The question for CBS: how do we convert these sports fans who aren’t watching Discovery into Star Trek fans?
The challenge this year was timing. Discovery, unavoidably, would not be able to air DURING football season (as it did in 2017). In fact, with a January 17, 2019 premiere date, football on All Access would be all but over, meaning those football subscribers might be tuning out (or unsubscribing) until next September without any motivation to stick around for Discovery.
So Short Treks was a way to give these sports fans a quick taste of the new Star Trek series without forcing them to commit to binge-watching an entire 15-episode first season. And of course, if CBS could also bring a few hundred thousand Trekkies back to re-subscribe a few months early, that’s just icing on the cake.
[Side note: the latter strategy didn’t work with me. I watch football on network TV, and I still haven’t re-subscribed to All Access yet, which is why you have’t seen reviews of the second or third Short Treks on this blog site.]
I suppose the bigger question remains: will this trend of decreased demand/supply of pirated Short Treks continue into season two of Discovery? Obviously, if the problem is simply just the lack of international viewers of Short Treks, their ignorance of the show’s existence, and the unavailability of the shorts in their native languages, then the numbers should bounce back quickly once the next season of Discovery begins.
On the other hand, if the piracy numbers continue to be lower than season one, this might be the closest we fans have to a “Nielsen Rating” for the subscriber-only Star Trek: Discovery. What an interesting way to “read the tea leaves” when CBS won’t tell us themselves, huh?
I’m planning to stay in touch with my new pirate friends to see what happens after season two begins on January 17. And I’ll keep you posted!
Late-breaking update: The Orville and piracy
Pirate B just reported from Germany that the season premiere of The Orville (which won’t air in Germany until next July) was available on one of the largest Germany “share” websites barely four hours after its first airing on Fox USA. He doesn’t use bit torrent, so there aren’t seeds to count, but he did confirm that no Short Treks episodes are currently listed. I asked about Discovery episodes from season one…
Season One is easy to find…all episodes are up. The “Short Treks,” however, are hard to find. They are not up on the major sites, so I need to check smaller, lesser known pages.
So this is interesting because The Orville is obviously being posted by pirates in English, not German. So this does potentially validate the theory that Short Treks is in low demand not because of language/translation issues but more because many Europeans don’t know it exists. And that could be good news for CBS if it means there isn’t a drop-off in enthusiasm for new Star Trek in general.
We’ll know more in about two weeks…stay tuned!