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Bittorrent Traffic Suddenly Rising In Traffic Share Thanks To Streaming Fragmentation

1For a long time it looked as though the popularity of legal streaming services would be able to curb online piracy, but as streaming offerings continue to diversify, and more of the services continue to release their own original programming, the a la carte option of Bittorrent has seen a resurgence.

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Guest post by Timothy Geigner of TechDirt

When it comes to the type of traffic the content industries are worried about regarding piracy, the present is no longer the past. You can see this in many ways, such as anti-piracy efforts largely focusing on illicit streaming sites, the trend in laws and takedown notices also targeting streaming sites, and the overall messaging coming out of the copyright industries about how evil streaming sites are with little distinction between the legal and illegal. All of this has been built in part on the realization that bittorrent traffic, the piracy metric of a decade ago, has been steadily dropping in its traffic market share for several years. Combined with a drastic rise in streaming traffic share, the takeaway was that pirates weren't downloading any longer and were instead streaming.

2The other side of that conversation is how good, convenient streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have taken away some of the impulse for copyright infringement as well. It turns out that if you give the public access to what they want at a reasonable price and make the content easy to get, there's no longer a need to pirate that content. Who knew?

Unfortunately, the past few years have seen a drastic fragmentation of the streaming market. Where there was once the need to essentially have one or two streaming services to get most of the content you want, exclusivity deals and homegrown content created by the streaming companies themselves has carved out more borders in the streaming services industry, often times requiring many streaming services to get the content people now want. And, because every action has an equal and opposite reaction, Canadian broadband management company Sandvine is reporting that bittorrent traffic is suddenly on the rise.

Globally, across both mobile and fixed access networks file-sharing accounts for 3% of downstream and 22% of upstream traffic. More than 97% of this upstream is BitTorrent, which makes it the dominant P2P force. In the EMEA region, which covers Europe, the Middle East, and Africa there’s a clear upward trend. BitTorrent traffic now accounts for 32% of all upstream traffic. This means that roughly a third of all uploads are torrent-related.

Keep in mind that overall bandwidth usage per household also increased during this period, which means that the volume of BitTorrent traffic grew even more aggressively.

That trend is being mirrored in other regions around the world as well. Once thought to be the declining method for filesharing, bittorrent is suddenly making a traffic comeback. And the reason is the fragmentation in the streaming marketplace. Again, there are both real dollar costs and mental transaction costs that come along with signing up for multiple streaming services. Asking a person to subscribe to 3-6 streaming services to get the kind of content package that is now the norm is no different than a bulky cable bill with multiple and complicated packages. In addition, this streaming service bloat also mirrors what cord-cutters have been running away from for years, which is the cost associated with access to all kinds of content the customer has no interest in. In other words, the streaming industry risks making the exact same mistake the cable industry made with the exact same result in pushing people to pirate content.

And it's not just me saying so. Sandvine's report reaches the same conclusion.

“More sources than ever are producing ‘exclusive’ content available on a single streaming or broadcast service – think Game of Thrones for HBO, House of Cards for Netflix, The Handmaid’s Tale for Hulu, or Jack Ryan for Amazon. To get access to all of these services, it gets very expensive for a consumer, so they subscribe to one or two and pirate the rest.

“Since these numbers were taken in June for this edition, there were no Game of Thrones episodes coming out, so consider these numbers depressed from peak!” Cullen notes.

None of this is to say that streaming and content companies can't produce exclusive content, or that every content creator should make their content available on every streaming platform. However, when the bittorrent traffic picks up, the industry also can't simply fall back on the "everybody just wants everything for free!" tired mantra that's been trotted out so often in the past. It's a direct result of the fragmentation, which is a business model issue.

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