Netflix’s next potential customers may be on the Pirate Bay right now, looking for a copy of the latest season of Arrested Development: Copies of the show went up on various torrent sites just hours after Netflix released all 15 episodes of the fourth season on Saturday night in its entirety. Around 100,000 people have downloaded episodes of the show within the first 24 hours alone, according to TorrentFreak editor Ernesto, who has long tracked downloading stats for popular movies and TV shows.
That number is considerably less than some of the numbers he has seen for new episodes of popular TV shows like Game of Thrones, which saw a million downloaders for its April season premiere in a single day. New episodes for shows like Mad Men, Revolution and Teen Wolf all have seen higher download numbers as well, but it’s worth pointing out that many of these shows aren’t available through legal services until the day after they air on TV, if at all. In the case of Game of Thrones, online viewing is restricted to cable subscribers who pay a premium to access HBO.
Netflix on the other hand is available in 36 million households across the US, Canada, Latin America, the UK and Northern Europe, with no need for a cable subscription at all. CEO Reed Hastings has long claimed that Netflix is winning the fight against piracy with convenience and a low price point, and the lower levels of Arrested Development piracy may be an indicator that he’s right.
However, 100,000 downloaders within a day isn’t too shabby either, and the mere existence of these pirates is an interesting problem for Netflix to have. Traditionally, TV piracy has been fueled in part by international windowing. Viewers would download new episodes of US TV shows months before licensing brought them to TV networks in their home countries.
Some of Netflix’s original content is going to be licensed in similar ways, simply because the company is cooperating with multiple partners who all have their own stake in the distribution chain. For example, Sony Pictures Television has been licensing House of Cards on behalf of the show’s production company Media Rights Capital to broadcasters in Australia, China and elsewhere. But as Netflix gets more and more into the original content game, it only makes sense to also play a more active role and use that kind of content itself to lead its international expansion plans.
Case in point: The Australian consumer advocacy organization Choice recently sent an open letter to the company, asking it to roll out its service in the country as well. It read, in part:
“Currently, Australians are prohibited from accessing the Netflix website. (…) This is frustrating for a number of consumers, however more so for consumers who may be fans of your original series, to which you have exclusive broadcasting rights.”
Asked about the letter, a Netflix spokesperson would only say that the company is “busily expanding” into additional international markets. Netflix has said that it plans to expand to an additional European market during the second half of this year – and I wouldn’t be too surprised for original content to play a significant role in that expansion.