Despite Security Concerns, More Than Half of Internet Users Watch Bootleg Streams [Survey]

All About Cookies surveyed 1,000 people to find out what kinds of content they stream, how many use less-than-legal means to stream, and more.
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Netflix ushered in the era of streaming content more than 15 years ago, and since that time, nearly every major entertainment studio and cable provider has jumped into the streaming wars. As a result, you can watch just about anything you want from wherever you want — if you’re willing to pay for yet another subscription.

To find out more about the state of streaming today, the All About Cookies team surveyed 1,000 people to find what kinds of streaming content are most popular, how people gain access to top streaming platforms, how many use alternative or unauthorized streaming options, and more.

In this article
Key findings
How people access popular streaming services
How many people watch unauthorized streams
How many people watch unofficial/pirated sports streams
How many people use social media to watch live streams of restricted content
More tips for streaming content (responsibly)
Methodology

Key findings

  • 51% of people said they’ve watched unauthorized streams of movies, and over one in four have done the same for live sports.
    • NFL, NBA, and MLB games are the sports that are illegally streamed most often.
    • 64% of millennials have watched sports via an unofficial stream.
  • Swifties unite: Over one-third of people have watched a livestream of restricted content on social media.
  • Password sharing:
    • Amazon Prime users were the most likely to pay for their own accounts.
    • Almost half of YouTube TV users access the site via a free trial or someone else’s login.

It can be hard to keep track of which shows and movies are on which streaming services at any given time. As a result many people end up with login and account information for multiple platforms at the same time. However, not everyone is paying for those accounts themselves.

A chart showing how people access different streaming platforms. The options include various streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Amazon Prime Video, which is included in a general Amazon Prime account, is the streaming service people are most likely to pay for themselves (79%), followed by Netflix (76%), Hulu (67%), and Disney+ (67%).

While that means the majority of people are paying for their own accounts, it also means more than one-fifth of users are using a free trial, or someone else’s login information, to watch their favorite shows and movies. On the flip side, YouTube TV, Peacock, and Apple TV+ were the platforms users are least likely to pay for themselves.

A chart showing what types of content people most regularly stream online.

Though streaming gaming content is becoming more popular, movies and TV are still at the top of the list for streaming content. More than three-quarters of people regularly watch on-demand shows and movies on streaming platforms, compared to just 61% that watch live TV, and 50% that watch live sports on a streaming platform.

For gaming content, there's a notable difference in entertainment preferences across generations. Just one-quarter of the overall population streams gaming content, but that number jumps to over 40% among millennials and Gen Z. The percentage tumbles to less than 10% among baby boomers and Gen X.

How many people watch unauthorized streams

Between the cost of multiple subscriptions, ever-shifting streaming rights and libraries, app fatigue, and more, there are plenty of reasons that people turn to alternative means of streaming their favorite content.

A chart showing what types of media people most commonly stream illegally online.

Unofficial or pirated streams are a common way people avoid paying for content while still watching what they want. More than half of internet users admitted to having used an illegal stream to watch movies in the past. Nearly the same percentage have done the same for TV shows.

One interesting phenomenon involves watching pay-per-view events on illegal streams. These tend to be single-use streams that can cost upward of $100 for live viewing access — often for high-prize-money events like UFC fights. Though this may let viewers get away with not paying for a costly UFC stream, many of the event stars (like UFC fighters) actually might get paid based on pay-per-view sales.

Another interesting trend in the data is what we’ll call the Swiftie Effect — more than 20% of respondents said they’ve streamed live concert footage via an illegal stream. This was an increasingly popular tactic during the Taylor Swift Eras tour, where individuals would post livestreams of the concerts from their seats so that others could avoid lofty ticket prices and still see the show.

While bootleg streams can save viewers money and simplify the process of finding desired content, illicit sites that host these kinds of streams can also put a user’s computer and data at risk. Anyone willing to take the risk should know tactics for how to stay safe online before firing up their favorite show or movie.

How many people watch unofficial/pirated sports streams

Live sports is another type of content that many people watch via unofficial streams. More than one-quarter of people admitted to watching sports this way. The portion of illegal sports streamers changes significantly across different demographics, hitting a peak of 64% among millennials.

A chart showing which live sports people most commonly stream illegally online.

Among American sports fans in general the NFL is king, and it is no different among fans using bootleg streams to watch sports. More than 60% of people who have watched sports via an unofficial live stream have done so to watch NFL football before, the only sport that more than half of unofficial sports stream viewers have watched this way.

More than a quarter of people say they have used a VPN to stream live sports. This tactic can be utilized by those accessing both legitimate and bootleg streams. Some users with paid streaming subscriptions or accounts, such as MLB.tv, may use a VPN to get around local blackouts while people accessing bootleg streams may use a VPN to reduce the risk that illicit streaming sites pose.

How many people use social media to watch live streams of restricted content

Between Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, social media has emerged as a new platform for streaming, particularly live streaming things like concerts and other live events. In fact, more than one out of every three people (36%) say they have watched restricted content on social media.

A pie chart showing percentages of people who report they have or have not watched otherwise restricted content via social media.

Fans of musical artists like Taylor Swift have taken to livestreaming their experiences at live shows, with thousands of fans around the world watching along and experiencing the concert through the stream. Even things like movies, TV shows, or sporting events can end up on unlicensed social media live streams, sometimes attracting large audiences that are happy to enjoy otherwise inaccessible content from the convenience of their favorite social media platform.

More tips for streaming content (responsibly)

  • Set yourself up with a VPN. Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a recommended tool to keep yourself safe, no matter where you’re accessing your favorite shows and movies. Research all of the available streaming VPNs based on your personal preferences.
  • Download anti-malware protection. As live/online streaming can make you vulnerable to internet and privacy issues, it’s important to look into anti-malware software for a more secure streaming experience.
  • Keep your passwords secure. Be careful who you grant access to your streaming accounts. Password managers can offer smart features such as authorized credential cross-sharing and multi-factor authentication.

Methodology

All About Cookies surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults ages 18 or older using a survey platform in October 2023. Results were stratified across age and gender to create a nationally representative sample.

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Author Details
Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how tech overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.