Pirated film sites face doomsday in Vietnam

By Luu Quy   June 24, 2020 | 12:42 am PT
Many sites hosting uncopyrighted films have witnessed a decline in user numbers as paid services boasting better quality slowly gain popularity among movie lovers.

Thanh Huyen is a loyal fan of phimmoi, a popular pirated movie website in Vietnam. Recently, she decided to give up on her favorite free site due to the struggle of actually viewing the latest blockbuster.

"One 40-minute episode has about 10 advertisements," she said, adding an episode usually includes two ads at the beginning, two at the end, several in the middle, and appear whenever a film is rewound or fast-forward.

She often has to sit through two ads only to find she could not watch a film due to a site crash.

Tired of wading through a sea of advertisements, Huyen has opted for a paid service, offering her a better user experience.

Phimmoi cannot be accessed from Vietnam. 

Phimmoi is currently inaccessible in Vietnam. 

In the last few years, with the increasing number of legal, fee-based movie and music sites in Vietnam like Netflix and Spotify, several pirate sites have experienced a decline in business due to worsening quality and the onslaught of local authorities and operators.

According to Similarweb, an American company providing web analytics services for businesses, traffic across pirate websites have been declining since January 2020.

Phimmoi, attracting about 100 million page views in March, saw a traffic decrease of 25 percent in the last two months. Bilutv, with 10 million views at the end of 2019, now has around two million.

Websites providing uncopyrighted films rely heavily on money earned from ad banners. To maximize the benefits, they have added countless advertisements, causing a terrible viewing experience for pirate users.

In January 2020, a report by U.K. research firm We Are Social revealed phimmoi was 14th among the top 20 websites experiencing the most traffic in Vietnam.

To trick cinephiles with click bait, many sites include fake "high definition" options to attract viewers. Many films are posted on such websites several days after official release, recorded from within cinemas.

Streaming platforms boasting better quality at affordable prices like Netflix, FPT Play, etc. offer a welcome alternative.

According to Vu Anh Tu, deputy director of telecom and internet service provider FPT Telecom, licensed movie websites outweigh pirated equivalents due to high quality movies with good definition and quick international and local updates.

Collective efforts

Phimmoi, HDonline, Phimbathu, etc. are among 83 websites violating copyright law, according to the Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information. Most such sites use foreign domains and storage services, so managing them is not a simple task.

To deal with the situation, according to Nguyen Ha Yen, deputy head of the broadcasting body, local authorities would coordinate with Internet operators.

Currently, many pirated movie sites in Vietnam have been blocked. 

"Blocking domains is a huge and effective step even it cannot solve the root problem," said Phan Thanh Gian, director of streaming platform ClipTV. He added that even if pirated movie suppliers create a new website, it would take Internet users a long time to get used to a new platform, leading to declining traffic and profits.

Many websites put on false HD and Vietsub marks to attract viewers.

Many websites put on false "HD" indicators to lure viewers. 

According to Gian, illegal movie services used to work based on advertisement revenue alongside a huge number of users and zero copyright fees. Furthermore, they use Google or Facebook CDN (Content Delivery Network) services to cut costs.

Now, many companies are more careful when it comes to accessing advertisements via these shady websites and many storage services have started tightening their policies.

Experts maintain it is not easy to eliminate the pirated movie market in Vietnam or worldwide, adding authorities and companies should establish collective efforts to tackle the problem. Increasing penalties, saying no to advertisements on pirated websites, and encouraging viewers to opt for paid streaming services, etc. are several options on the table.

The Authority of Broadcasting and Electronic Information estimated average revenue from a streaming user in Vietnam is less than $1, the lowest in South East Asia. This partly derives from the domination of pirated movie sites in the last few years.

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