File sharing is alive and well, to the tune of 300 million users a month

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Surprise: P2P isn’t dead, after all. 300 million users swap files via BitTorrent every month, according to new numbers from media intelligence startup Tru Optik, which estimates that every month, more movies and TV shows get downloaded by file sharers than are sold on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon together.

And we’re not just talking about users in countries where media would otherwise be inaccessible. Users in the U.S. download more movies, TV shows, music and software than any other country, according to Tru Optik. The only exception to this rule is video games, where users in Brazil are more active than their U.S. counterparts.

Image courtesy of Tru Optik.

<a href="http://truoptik.com/?page=infographics">Image courtesy of Tru Optik.</a>

These numbers run counter to common wisdom, which assumes that file sharing has slowed down significantly, thanks in part to legal pressure and in part to the growing popularity of paid services like Netflix. Traffic management company Sandvine, for example, recently pointed out that Netflix is now responsible for 34.2 percent of all peak downstream traffic, whereas BitTorrent only accounts for 3.4 percent of all peak downstream traffic, a number that has been continuously declining.

Tru Optik CEO Andre Swanston called these numbers misleading when I asked him about it. “There is a false assumption made that there is a correlation between percentage of network bandwidth and active monthly users or numbers of files downloaded,” he told me, adding that Sandvine only measured the relative share of all network bandwidth, which naturally declined as Netflix got more popular.

“Whether it’s Netflix, Facebook, or the New York Times, size, growth or decline of all types of mass media is measured by the number of subscribers and users,” Swanston argued. An estimated share of network traffic simply didn’t make sense to judge a medium’s popularity.

However, a problem has been that file sharing hasn’t been all that easy to quantify. Tru Optik wants to change that, and the company is now launching a P2P data analytics API that promises real-time access to file sharing data. “In the month of March, we connected with over 150 million unique IPs just from the top 7000 torrents on (the) Pirate Bay,” Swanston said. That data could power personalized content recommendations and help brands and media companies understand what consumers really want, he told me — which seems to be more than just Netflix.

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