While people who obtain content from unofficial online sources are often painted as freeloaders, there is a growing understanding that they can also be some of the entertainment industry's best customers. A new report out of Australia has found that 66% of Aussie downloaders are also paying for streaming services such as Netflix.

With billions in entertainment industry revenues reportedly at stake, it’s unsurprising that the piracy debate has become so polarized over the years. With millions of illegal downloads happening on a daily basis, emotions rarely run anything but high.

As a result lobbyists have placed the public into two distinct camps – those who pay for all of the media they consume and those who frequent pirate sites and contribute nothing to the artist-supporting economy. It’s a convenient demarcation that has allowed for the celebration of one subset and the demonization of the other.

However, for a long time it’s been increasingly obvious that the battle lines are a lot less black and white. In fact, with the advent of services like Netflix now being delivered on an almost global basis, there are even greater opportunities for pirates to be simultaneous legitimate consumers. Over in Australia there are yet more signs that this is the case.

Billed as “Australia’s respected and reliable national omnibus poll”, the Essential Report is published by Essential Research. The report tracks voting intention while asking questions about pressing social issues of the day. The sample is around 1000 citizens.

Among other things the latest edition touches on media consumption, both from official and unofficial sources. Australia is often painted as a country of pirates but the survey finds that the majority prefers to keep things on the straight and narrow.

Downloading for free

When respondents were asked if in anyone in their household downloads movies, music or television shows for free, 64% said that to their knowledge no one does. That percentage was steady across male and female respondents, with 63% and 64% respectively.

There was some variation across age groups though, with 65% of the 35-54 year-olds and just 49% of the 18-34 year old group saying no one downloads content for free.

Interestingly the headline 64% figure has remained relatively unchanged for the past several years. In October 2013 an identical percentage said that there were downloaders in their households, a figure that was marginally up on the 61% reported in May 2012.

When questioned, just over a quarter – 26% – said that people do indeed download content for free in their homes. There was a perhaps expected variation across the sexes – 28% for men, 25% for women.

The age groups also provide few surprises, with the likelihood of people downloading falling as age increases. Around 39% of 18-34 year-olds said that there are downloaders in their homes, dropping to just 13% in the 55-year-old plus category.

The 26% of homes with free downloaders present is well down on the 32% reported in May 2012. However, there has been little change from the 27% reported in October 2013.

Subscription services, Netflix etc

Those surveyed were asked if anyone in their household subscribes to content streaming services such as Netflix or the more localized Foxtel. Overall an impressive 51% of respondents said someone in their house is a customer, with Foxtel coming out on top with 30% and Netflix in second place with 25%.

In respect of Netflix there is a considerable variation across the age groups, with 47% of 18-34 year-olds and just 8% of 55+ year-olds subscribing to the service. But perhaps the most interesting figures are those which demonstrate how many subscribers to legitimate services are also downloading content for free.

According to the survey, 36% of households with Netflix subscriptions also partake in content which they don’t pay for. However, when all streaming subscriptions are factored in a significant 66% of households who pay for their media are also obtaining content online for free.

These figures are another indication of how dangerous it is to demonize downloaders when they’re also some of the industry’s best customers. They also show the current popularity of Netflix but whether growth will persist in the wake of the recent VPN crackdown will remain to be seen.