Why South Africans still use illegal torrents

The growth of streaming services in South Africa has significantly reduced reliance on illegal copies of media, with many local viewers being happy to pay a small monthly fee for access to platforms like Netflix and Showmax.

“Netflix definitely played a vital part in changing user behaviour,” RSAWEB recently told MyBroadband.

“The South African internet culture has changed from hoarding downloaded content from torrents to on-demand streaming.”

Piracy remains a problem, however, with local Internet users still downloading copyrighted material through torrent files and storing them on their hard drives.

There are multiple reasons for this, although one of the major contributing factors is the licensing of content to media platforms, as well as the number of streaming services themselves.

Fragmented market

A recent survey conducted by Broadband Genie found that while streaming has severely reduced instances of piracy, the increased fragmentation of streaming platforms could be a major cause.

Disney recently announced the launch of its own streaming service, a move which resulted in a large selection of content being pulled off Netflix.

Many other players are also looking to launch their own content platforms, which will inevitably lead to users being required to pay more subscription fees to watch all their favourite shows.

The survey found that 37% of viewers would consider pirating content if the streaming market continued to fragment.

Additionally, 18% of respondents admitted to occasionally pirating media, while 4% said they did it often. It is important to note that this survey was conducted in the UK, where piracy is not as common as it is in South Africa.

In South Africa, many viewers may pirate shows which are not available on local streaming platforms due to licensing issues.

We sometimes receive content later than the rest of the world, too, which can encourage users to download illegal versions of the show.

Those without DStv can also be tempted to pirate shows and other content exclusive to the satellite broadcasting platform.

South Africa and piracy

Piracy has been declining in South Africa, but as recently as 2017, 74% of MyBroadband readers classified themselves as an online pirate.

Most of the content they downloaded illegally comprised TV series and movies, although software, music, and books also made up a large component.

Music streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music have since gained significant adoption locally, and it could be assumed that this has had a similar impact on piracy as video streaming services.

The piracy of software, books, and video games remains prevalent, however, and while the launch of game streaming services such as Google Stadia might curb video game piracy in the near future, many South Africans prefer to download illegal versions of software and books instead of purchasing them legitimately.

When it comes to pirating videos in South Africa, Cybersmart CTO Laurie Fialkov said that streaming is much easier for local users.

“Now there is Netflix in South Africa, high-speed internet is common, and you do not have to download a whole movie before deciding that it is not your cup of tea,” Fialkov said.

He added that peer-to-peer sharing can have unknown content sources and carries the risk of infected files in addition to copyright infringement.

“I believe that for under R100 many people aren’t prepared to take that risk,” Fialkov said. “So the increase is significant. In fact, we have more bandwidth to Netflix now than our entire network’s capacity 5 years ago.”

Now read: The best and worst ISPs in South Africa

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Why South Africans still use illegal torrents