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​‘P2P not dead': 300 mn BitTorrent users swap TV shows and movies every month

Published time: May 31, 2014 13:03
AFP Photo / Hoang Dinh Nam

AFP Photo / Hoang Dinh Nam

Despite the copyright industry’s best efforts to stamp out internet piracy, P2P file sharing continues its meteoric rise, with 300 million users swapping files via BitTorrent every month, media analytics startup Tru Optik says.

Ever since the advent of YouTube, coupled with scare stories of copyright holders suing individual downloaders for losses, reports of a drop in peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing have been a regular occurrence for over half a decade.

As early as 2009, Wired was reporting P2P was likely dead in the water, when its total percentage of net traffic had dropped from 40 to 18 percent over a two-year period. In November, a Global Internet Phenomena report published by Sandvine said that P2P file sharing had dropped below 10 percent of total daily internet traffic in North America, with YouTube and US-based on demand media streaming service Netflix accounting for over 50 percent of downloaded content.

But recent statistics released by Tru Optik paint quite a different picture, estimating that every month more media content is downloaded by file sharers than are sold on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon combined.

And it’s not just countries where certain media is unavailable or restricted in availability. The United States, which produces much of the world’s most popular entertainment products, is also the P2P king, downloading more movies, television shows, music and software than any other country. The US only gets outpaced in the realm of video games, where Brazil takes the number one spot.

The US accounts for 10.57 percent of all global P2P users. The company said that as of March 2014, 31.7 million unique IP addresses were engaged in file sharing, up from a monthly average of 28.2 million in 2010.

The numbers run counter to widely accepted statistical trends, like those provided by Sandvine, which reported earlier this month that BitTorrent only accounts for 3.4 percent of all peak downstream traffic, while Netflix is responsible for ten times that figure.

Speaking with Janko Roettgers, who’s long covered P2P related issues for tech-blog Gigaom, Tru Optik CEO Andre Swanston characterized those numbers as “misleading.”

“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 said, adding that Sandvine only measured the relative share of all network bandwidth, which had 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 added, concluding that an estimated share of network traffic was not a logical metric to determine a medium’s actual popularity.

Swantson says that the lack of ease in quantifying file sharing has prompted the company to launch 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 Pirate Bay,” Swanston said.

He concluded that the information could help provide powerful market research to help media companies get a clearer understanding of real consumer demand.

There could be some sense in monetizing that demand, as in the United States 69 percent of P2P downloads occur in homes averaging $50K (the national median income) to $90K a year. Another 18 percent of downloads were registered in homes averaging over $90K annually.

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