Pirates of the Television

The Hollywood Reporter recently did a breakdown of the most pirated movies and television shows for the week of November 20th to November 27th, 2010.

The movies that make the Top Ten are pretty obvious -- new releases and movies with a lot of buzz behind them.  Most of these movies also managed to do well at the box office, despite being so highly pirated.

It was the television list that contained the most interesting information, though.  Here it is:

  1. Chuck
  2. Gossip Girl
  3. The Event
  4. Dexter
  5. 90210
  6. Lie to Me
  7. The Walking Dead
  8. Boardwalk Empire
  9. Lost Girl
  10. True Blood
There's a lot surprising about this list.  The first thing that stuck out to me was the low relatively low ranking for shows that appear on premium cable channels.  I suppose much of this has to do with the dates, but Boardwalk Empire and Dexter are both currently in the middle of seasons, yet only managed to come in at 8 and 4, respectively.

Lost Girl makes sense since it's a Canadian show that doesn't air anywhere else., although it is surprising that Dr. Who isn't on this list for the same reason.  Then again, Dr. Who doesn't have new episodes out.

The Walking Dead is clearly the hot show of the moment, but I believe it's also a hot shot that had a simultaneous release all over the world, so the fact that it would be so highly pirated given how incredibly available it is comes as a surprise (although I might be wrong about its availability).

But how do we explain 5 of the Top 6?

The easiest solution is that they're all driven by countries other than the U.S., which would seem to make sense.  But why these particular shows?  None of them get particularly good ratings (and I'm sure studios are just chomping at the bit to make the argument that pirated copies are why).

I suppose it could come down to demographics and buzz.  All the shows but Lie To Me have large cult followings made up of tech savvy fans who tend to skew young.  These are exactly the kind of people likely to download episodes online.  In fact, it wouldn't shock me if the same people who watch these shows every week are also the ones downloading them, just so they can watch them over and over again whenever they want.

As for Lie To Me, I have no explanation, aside from Tim Roth having a huge overseas following.

Ideally, television networks and studios use these numbers less as an indication that they're losing viewers and more as impetus to change their current model of business.  New episodes need to be made available for digital download soon after they air, and for a reasonable price, either per episode or as a subscription.  It won't stop all pirating, but it will entice some people to buy the legal copies and, in turn, make the studios some money.  Perhaps even more importantly, it will give networks another barometer for determining how successful a show is, something other than an antiquated total viewers number that means nothing in a DVR world.