Illegal streaming statistics

How many people in the UK are illegally downloading content online?

Streaming and downloading content online is a great way to access the latest movies, music or TV shows, wherever you are in the world. From that first play of your favourite artist’s new album to catching the latest Hollywood blockbuster on the box, it’s all available right at your fingertips. But there are those who choose to consume content illegally and are facing the consequences.

Below, we’ve crunched some numbers to see just how many.

Quick overview

  • 1 in 4 people who stream illegally have been affected by viruses and malware.
  • Over 6 million people in the UK have consumed some form of illegal content online in the last three months.
  • The most common type of content downloaded or streamed is TV shows and sports.
  • 47% of football fans have illegally streamed a game in the past.
  • 36% of fans reported to doing this every month, with 22% doing it every week.

Who is illegally accessing content?

Reports show that over 6 million people in the UK have consumed some form of illegal content online in the last three months. So who is doing it?

Well, it seems 27% of males and 23% of females in the last three months. But these figures have remained fairly consistent from 2015 to 2018, with the only significant change a fall in the number of males from 2015 (31%) to 2016 (26%). In general, more males access illegal content than females each year – apart from in 2016 where it was a dead-heat between genders (26%).

2015 2016 2017 2018
Males 31% 26% 27% 27%
Females 23% 26% 23% 23%

Age groups

Those aged 16-24 are more likely to consume content illegally, with almost a third (31%) of this age group guilty of streaming for free. Those aged 12-15 and 25-34 aren’t far behind, with over a quarter (27%) having illegally accessed content online. A large proportion of 35-44 (25%) have also done the deed. Unsurprisingly, those aged 45-54 (20%) and 55+ (17%) are the least likely to have accessed illegal content online.

Age group Percentage who have infringed
12-15 27%
16-24 31%
25-34 27%
35-44 25%
45-54 20%
55+ 17%

What are people illegally downloading?

The most common type of content consumed in 2018 was TV shows (23%), closely followed by sports (21%) and downloading software (20%). Overall, the same amount of content was accessed illegally in 2017 as it was in 2018 (25%).

Over the last year, most of this content witnessed a similar amount of illegal downloads (+/- 1%), but the biggest change was observed in software downloads, where there was a 6% decrease from 2017 to 2018. Whereas, books have seen the biggest increase from 2017 to 2018, with 2% more accessed illegally in 2018 than in 2017.

Type of content 2015 2016 2017 2018
Music 24% 20% 18% 19%
Films 23% 24% 21% 19%
TV 21% 20% 22% 23%
Software 20% 19% 26% 20%
Books 11% 12% 11% 13%
Video-games 18% 18% 16% 16%
Sports content N/A N/A N/A 21%
Any 27% 25% 25% 25%

Illegal football streaming

Football broadcasting rights are big business, with Sky Sports, BT Sports and newcomers Amazon paying over £9 billion to the Premier League for broadcasting rights over the next three years. However, some football fans are taking to illegal streaming to watch their favourite team. A 2017 report revealed:

  • 47% of football fans have watched a match through an unofficial provider in the past.
  • 36% of fans reported to doing this monthly and 22% at least once a week.
  • 65% of those aged 18-34 have illegally streamed football in the last month, twice as much as those aged 35-54 (33%).
  • Just 13% of those aged 55+ reported to have illegally streamed a football match in the last month.
  • The most popular reasons for doing so were; a friend or family does it and they just watch (29%), because the quality is good (25%) and because sports TV packages are too expensive (24%).

Reasons for illegally accessing content

The most common reason cited by respondents who had accessed illegal content was because it’s free (44%). Users also find it easy and convenient (41%), as well as quick to access (38%). These three reasons are by far the most popular, but others included not being able to afford to pay (11%), friends and family doing the same (9%) and because the content is not available legally (7%).

Take a look at the graphic and table below to see more reasons why people are taking the risk.

Reason Percentage
It is free 44%
It is easy / convenient 41%
It is quick 38%
It means I can try before I buy 15%
Because I can 13%
I can't afford to pay 11%
I think legal content is too expensive 9%
Friends or family do the same 9%
I already own the content in another format 7%
I already spend enough on content 7%
The files I want are not available on legal services 7%
I've already paid to see them (in concert or cinema etc) 6%
The industry makes too much money 5%
I don't want to wait for the content to become available on legal services 4%
I don't think I should pay for files online 4%

What are the risks?

Downloading content illegally comes with many risks, namely, you can never be sure exactly what you are downloading. There is the potential for hackers to add malware for example, as well as the impact of viruses. We looked at the latest statistics to find out how many people have been affected by these issues.

1 in 4 people who have streamed illegally have been hit by viruses and malware, and 1 in 10 people have been a victim of fraud.

Of course, there are many legal streaming services available in the UK such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, hayu and NOW. These “subscription video on demand” (SVOD) services have been growing in popularity in the UK over recent years. In fact, over 46% of UK households have a subscription to at least one in 2019.

By far the most popular service is Netflix, with over 11 million subscribers in the UK. Amazon Prime boasts close to 6 million, while NOW has 1.6 million. This means there are over 19 million active subscriptions to SVOD services in the UK, 3.5 million more than the year before.

Streaming serviceQ1 2018Q1 2019Year change
Netflix9.11 million11.47 million+2.36 million
Amazon Prime4.83 million5.96 million+1.13 million
NOW1.46 million1.62 million+0.16 million


Click here for more research. For all media enquiries, please contact:

Matt Mckenna
UK communications manager
T: +44 20 8191 8806

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