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Is Digital Piracy The Way Of The Future?

November 7th, 2013


There is a long and well-documented battle against copyright infringement and digital piracy (the illegal download of copyrighted materials). In this post we take a look at the most pirated TV shows by year worldwide, and how those numbers stack up to viewings on television in the United States. Is digital piracy an increasingly prevalent trend? Are there certain shows that are more likely to be pirated? The answers to these questions may surprise you.

Torrentfreak provides the most pirated TV shows each year. These are the top 20 pirated shows from 2007 – 2013. Game of Thrones is known for its pirated popularity, but it has yet to beat Lost, Heroes, and Dexter. However, those shows have considerably more seasons under their belts so it’s safe to assume Game of Thrones will soon claim that first spot.

DataHero Most Pirated TV Shows, 2007-2013

Pirated TV shows have by no means usurped traditional TV viewings on the whole in the past 4 years, as the two graphs below confirm. As a percentage of overall viewing, estimated downloads have remained relatively constant from 2009-2013 however, remember that 2013 only includes the spring season of TV shows. It is very possible that this fall season will show a steep increase in downloaded shows.

DataHero Viewers and Downloads by Year (2)

Indeed, there doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern regarding increases or decreases in traditional TV viewers and estimated downloads for 2012 and 2013.

 DataHero Viewers vs. Downloads by Year (4) DataHero Change in Viewers vs. Downloads (1)


There is an unexpected pattern when you look at the rank of pirated TV shows against viewers on TV; they do not necessarily correlate the way one would expect. You can see in the graph below that the most pirated TV show does not necessarily mean it has the most traditional TV viewers.

DataHero Correlation Between US TV Viewers and Estimated Downloads

In 2012 and 2013, Game of Thrones is the only show where downloads were even close to comparable with TV viewers. HBO’s programming president, Michael Lombardo, doesn’t seem perturbed by this fact. He went so far as to say, “I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts. The demand is there and it certainly didn’t impact DVD sales. [Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network.” The Game of Thrones season 3 premiere this past April boasted 4.4 million viewers, a 13% increase from the season two premiere.

DataHero Downloads and Viewers by Show 2012-2013

Some argue that piracy increases exposure and fan loyalty, others argue that it’s hindering the production of the very shows the digital pirates love. While Game of Thrones is an interesting anomaly, most shows are still viewed traditionally on network television. An interesting follow-up would be analyzing TV show demographics compared to most pirated TV shows. Want to play around with your data to see what you can figure out? Sign up and upload your dataset into DataHero.

By Kelli Simpson

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