The media industry has had a long and adversarial relationship with piracy, and Netflix, who provides legitimate streaming access to content, is no different. So it sounds ironic, and yet at the same time almost unexpected, that Netflix indirectly benefits from piracy by helping it choose which shows to buy.
As Netflix begins making its service available to the Netherlands, it faces the arduous task of trying to determine which shows to license, which, of course, involves a certain amount of financial investment and risk. While charts, ratings, and surveys can give an idea of what the people want, apparently Netflix has another source to paint it a picture of market demand.
According to Kelly Merryman, Netflix VP of Content Acquisition, it uses BitTorrent and other pirate sites to measure the popularity of shows and to determine whether to license them or not. One such recent acquisition is "Prison Break", which seemed to be in demand on pirate sites.
Of course, this revelation doesn't mean that Netflix and pirates are now, or will ever be, friends. Netflix definitely sees pirates as illegal competitors and is taking on a mission to transform pirates into paying customers by advertising the convenience of its service. No need to download files, move them around or waste disk space.
That's not to say that Netflix isn't facing some tough competition from piracy. Not only does Netflix require decent internet connection, it will also not be able to acquire a number of popular shows that are distributed by rivals or competitors, ensuring that viewers will never be able to get 100% of their video entertainment from the service.