More Israelis Than Ever Before Spend Yom Kippur Watching Pirated Movies

About 66 percent of Israelis watch movies and TV shows online - only 2 percent of them use legal direct-view website.

Leo Atelman

Israeli television shuts down for Yom Kippur, together with the rest of the country. Five years ago, lines would have built up outside the DVD vending machines. But now that Internet rules, it’s easy to find content without waiting on lines. Including pirate content.

Israel has always been a piracy superpower, starting decades ago with software, such as Windows operating systems and the Office package of programs, then music downloads through sites such as Emule. Now the hot thing is video content, from movies to television series.

Being a piracy empire is nothing to be proud of. In fact it’s a violation of the law, and ultimately, breaching copyright law will diminish the will of artists to create. But how common is content piracy in Israel these days? Who’s doing it? We asked the Panels market research company to find out.

Panels conducted its survey on August 20 and 21, among 400 anonymous respondents ages 18 and up, a representative sample of the Jewish population in Israel. The margin of error is +/- 5%.

The respondents were asked to choose the media they use to watch films, series and television content. 66% answered that they use Internet – through direct broadcast sites, Popcorn Time, Torrent downloads, Kodi software and Netflix. Many also have cable TV subscriptions (to the Israeli companies HOT and Yes).

The direct-view sites are the most popular; 52% of the participants said they use them. The thing is that the only legal one in Israel is Netflix; all the rest (potentially) involve copyright infringement and piracy. Some 17% said they use Popcorn Time and 15% said they download content using Torrent, while 9% said they use the new platform Codi.

Only 2% said they use Netflix, which involves an $8 subscription a month. Using Netflix requires downloading a plug-in for the browser, which routes the download through an American server, in order to overcome the site’s geographical block. (Note that some viewers use more than one option.)

Men prefer torrents

Of the respondents, 35% said they subscribe to the Hot cable television company (not triple-play), 29% subscribe to Yes and 12% subscribe to Idan Plus; 7% said their television is linked to Internet and 3% said they subscribe to Cellcom TV; and 2% watch TV through private satellite dishes – this group includes mainly Israeli Arabs and Russian immigrants.

As for the end device, 78% still watch television, 58% said they watch content via computer, 23% by smartphone and 11% on tablets (some watch through more than one device: only 68% said the TV is their main viewing option, 15% said they don’t have a TV, and 5% said the smartphone is their main device).

A breakdown by age did bring some surprises. It’s a no-brainer that older groups tended to subscribe to the cable companies Hot and Yes – 81% of those aged 51 and up. In the group aged 31-40 with their own households, only 46% subscribe to the content duopoly and 24% said they had no TV at home. Among the group aged 21-30, the main vehicle for viewing content is the computer, at 52%, and only 35% named the television.

The survey also found that women prefer direct-viewing sites and men prefer technological solutions like torrents and Kodi: 19% of men use torrents versus 11% of women, and 13% of men use Kodi compared with 6% of women.

Not surprisingly, younger ones tend more to pirated content. The group aged 21-30 are the main users of direct viewing sites (72%), Popcorn Time (32%) and Torrent (28%). This group is also the heaviest user of Netflix (8%).

More surprisingly, Kodi is used by 10% of the group aged 31-40, and 13% of the group aged 41-50.

The public only began to notice the Kodi streaming software in 2015, according to Google Trends. The software is really a reincarnation of XBMC, a veteran media center software designed to turn the computer into a powerful media tool. Kodi can be installed on any PC, Windows, Mac or Linux, and on iPad, iPhone or any android smartphone.

In and of itself, Kodi is perfectly legal. The software scans all the music and video content owned by the user and enables him to watch it. The interface is constructed so the software can be controlled using the remote control, rather than the keyboard and mouse. Most of its fans use it to watch TVs connected to their computers; some buy streamers or mini-computers on which they install Kodi and connect them to the TV.

No banners

The problem begin when viewers install illegal additions to Kodi that enable piracy. One for instance offers a big database of movies and TV shows, some translated to Hebrew.

Tomer, 38, who owns the Kodi doman and asked not to be identifed by his full name, notes that the site does not refer users to illegal downloads. The only link is to the Kodi download, which is itself legal, he points out. “I didn’t even put banners on the site,” he adds.

The survey showing that only 9% of respondents use Kodi does not dismay him: “It doesn’t have the data on children under 18. These are the millennium generation, who are both developing the software and using it. 93% of the content consumed at that age is viewed at a delay. They have no tribal tradition of prime-time, nor do they watch together. Each watches in his own room.” People in the 40-51 age group using Kodi were introduced to it by their kids, he adds.

Kodi gets thousands of user visits a day, Tomer says, and claims use is growing tremendously in Israel, Malaysia, China and plenty of other places.

Popcorn Time and Netflix can both be watched through expansions to Kodi, he adds. “I’m also a paying customer of Netflix, and watch its contents inside Kodi.”

What advantages does Kodi confer that direct viewing sites, which are easy to use, don’t?

“Kodi is software for the television, that’s the difference. The interface mimics the converter and from the moment the software is installed, there’s nothing easier to operate. My seven-year old daughter operates it beautifully.”

He is confident that Kodi will outgrow the piracy phase. “All major industries went through their Etzel or Lehi periods. My grandfather took part in blowing up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Am I proud of it? No. but look, here I am at a café in Tel Aviv drinking coffee. For Kodi, now is Wild West time.”

Historically, he has a point. Take Skype: voice over Internet is illegal in Israel, from the perspective that Skype supplies phone service without licensing by the Communications Ministry. YouTube also started out providing pirated content; Airbnb and Uber are illegal in some countries.

TheMarker talked with Wiz, who has been developing a Kodi plug-in for Hebrew content, and the option of watching translated pirated content. He thought the 9% figure was low: “More than 100,000 people download my installation package every month.”

Kodi is an open-code product that anybody can contribute to, Wiz says. “I contribute to Kodi because I want to help people. It may sound pretentious, but the bottom line is that it hurts me that people without money have to pay 200 to 400 shekels a month for some entertainment after a hard day’s work.”

Wiz is no teenager: He’s 35, and has been developing for Kodi for three years. “Some other developers received warnings from Zira [an Internet copyrights organization, operating on behalf of media bodies, including HOT and Yes, Keshet and Reshet, and Channel 10]. They took fright and stopped developing. Some are in hiding.”

People may not necessarily realize they’re watching pirate content, says Eran Presenti, legal counsel to Zira. YouTube has legal content uploaded by its owners; but other sources may not, and watching pirate content is as illegal as speeding, Presenti points out. Even if everybody’s doing it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t theft.