Most pirated TV shows of 2011

Yes, it's that time of year again, those last few days when we look back on what we've done with the year, neatly and conveniently collected in the form of top 10 lists. Here's one for you: the kind folks over at TorrentFreak have rounded up a list of the most pirated TV shows of 2011.

Not too surprisingly, shows from premium cable networks, such as HBO, were at the top of the list. In fact, the number of illegal downloads exceeded the number of TV viewers for the first two items on the list, and by a very large number, in the case of the first item.

Dexter has the dubious honor of being the most pirated TV show, with 3,620,000 illegal downloads, compared to a mere 2,190,000 US TV viewers. Even the folks at the RIAA couldn't help themselves from ripping off a few episodes (actually, the entire series) of Showtime's hit series.

HBO's Game of Thrones came in a close runner up, with 3,400,000 illegal downloads, compared to 3,040,000 US TV viewers. It was followed by The Big Bang Theory, with 3,090,000 illegal downloads, compared to 15,980,000 US TV viewers, then by House.

There is a noticeable leap in the ratio of TV viewers versus downloaders between network and cable TV. Since the series are only available to subscribers for a long time after their first run, they drive would-be legitimate customers to piracy, at least until the shows become available through more legitimate channels, like iTunes.

There is some good news for the entertainment industry in the report. Illegal download activity has actually declined since 2010 – last year, 3,880,000 illegally downloaded Dexter, while a whopping 5,940,000 got their Lost fix in the form of a torrent.

TorrentFreak attributes this decline to the rise of legitimate distribution channels, such as Hulu. For instance, when Fox decided to delay releasing new episodes on Hulu back in August, the number of downloads of Fox shows more than doubled as former Hulu users turned to BitTorrent.

The simple fact is that the studios and networks are driving a lot of people to piracy simply because they insist on holding on to antiquated business models that simply don't work any more. It's just becoming less and less feasible to delay the release of a TV show through wider distribution channels for weeks or even months after its first run. 

Even though doing so might cut in to their traditional revenue stream, there's a good chance that the networks would actually end up making more money if they would offer their content through Hulu, iTunes and other channels the day after or, better yet, at the same time as its first run. When will they learn? 

Image courtesy of TorrentFreak

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60 Comments

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I can guarantee that without downloading them beforehand to form an opinion, I would never have bought a bunch of TV show box sets I now own (with more to come). Probably a few thousands of dollars worth by now--and I'm just speaking for myself.

I can't believe they call downloading piracy.
I pay for a cable subscription from my local provider, but use my 10Mb/s connection as my DVR.

Piracy my arse.

I'd love to buy my favourite shows legally. If only they'd actually LET me! Morons are missing out on a fortune by limiting access or putting them on iTunes.

I will NEVER install iTunes on my PC; I'd put an axe through it first, it'd work better afterwards than if I'd put that abomination on there.

Most pirated because RIAA is downloading them all and soon they're gonna download the internet and the streets around them. That's how we create black hole. The mayans were right, 2012 should be the end.

P1R4T3 said,
Most pirated because RIAA is downloading them all and soon they're gonna download the internet and the streets around them. That's how we create black hole. The mayans were right, 2012 should be the end.

Why is the RIAA downloading it was well...? To monitor and follow?

no surprise that HBO shows are most pirated.

who wants to pay extra a month just to watch 1-2 extra tv shows.

i admit i download tv shows. mainly because each tv show is 2/3 a tv show and 1/3 commercials.

We Don't have HULU or netflix here and iRefuse to use iTunes just for the shows I want to watch (also because there is no iTunes.co.nz)

On a side not, How the hell is "How I met your mother" that popular. Millions of viewers, really? I find it the most tedious unfunny twenty something minutes on TV. Must be too old I guess...

6 out of 10. Of course, I don't consider broadcast TV pirating, don't really care what anyone else argues either, it's just not a problem ethically one little bit for me.

I also downloaded Dexter + Thrones and ended up ordering the package based on those shows, so yeah, if not for "pirating" I never would have bought.

Here's the thing, Making shows affordable, accessible along with a slight tinge of fear from copyright issues works, but it's a fine line for most. Kids aren't going to pay, they shouldn't even count, they're just a mass that would never pay anyway so nothing is lost through them... and on and on.. you know the drill.

I downloaded Game of Thrones, but I have since signed up for HBO so I can watch new ones when they air because they're that good.

It seems that a LOT of the posters here (primarily ones from outside the US) a using some sort of "entitlement" excuse. You guys are making the assumption that you have some inherent right to watch these shows. Guess what? You don't. Especially the shows that air on regular network TV, since those are paid for by advertising that is shown during the program. Since you aren't watching the ads (and if you are outside the US, likely couldn't buy the products that are advertised anyway), you haven't contributed to the economy that supports these shows. The same goes for shows that air on premium cable networks. If you didn't pay to access that network, then you don't have a right to watch the show.

Do I download shows? Yes. Do I try to justify that by saying that I can't get them any other way? No, I don't. That being said, the only show I watch that I couldn't otherwise get here in the US is Lost Girl (at least I'm not aware of a network here that carries it).

edit: it seems that SyFy is going to start airing Lost Girl in January (of course, it will be two seasons behind though).

roadwarrior said,
It seems that a LOT of the posters here (primarily ones from outside the US) a using some sort of "entitlement" excuse. You guys are making the assumption that you have some inherent right to watch these shows. Guess what? You don't. Especially the shows that air on regular network TV, since those are paid for by advertising that is shown during the program. Since you aren't watching the ads (and if you are outside the US, likely couldn't buy the products that are advertised anyway), you haven't contributed to the economy that supports these shows. The same goes for shows that air on premium cable networks. If you didn't pay to access that network, then you don't have a right to watch the show.

Do I download shows? Yes. Do I try to justify that by saying that I can't get them any other way? No, I don't. That being said, the only show I watch that I couldn't otherwise get here in the US is Lost Girl (at least I'm not aware of a network here that carries it).

edit: it seems that SyFy is going to start airing Lost Girl in January (of course, it will be two seasons behind though).

Don't look for it to last long on SyFy if it doesn't get good ratings

Athlonite said,

Don't look for it to last long on SyFy if it doesn't get good ratings


Oh, I know. SyFy has killed off EVERY show I've ever liked on their network.

And then there's the issue of people who don't live in the US who PAY for TV, even premium channels but thanks to the antiquated distribution system have shows delayed weeks or months in their respective market, and that's if they're EVER shown locally.

Examples... American Chopper in Canada is several weeks behind the US airtimes. The new Thundercats isn't even shown here yet, and while you CAN buy the Season One DVD here (no Blu-Ray though BOOOOO), you can't buy the episodes in HD from Amazon unless you live in the U.S. and use a U.S. credit card.

Would that make me want to download them, even illegally? Damn straight it does...

Yeah I downloaded Game of Thrones, but I've also pre-ordered the special edition BluRay. If I never downloaded it, I wouldn't have seen it and subsequently pre-ordered it. How else would I watch it in the UK? Wait for it to start again on TV at some unknown time? TV show "piracy" is silly.
Big Bang Theory, really? Tasteless!

I would imagine that if it was less of a hassle to watch these shows legitimately they would get downloaded illegally less often. Oh how I long for the day that I'll be able to watch HBO/Showtime content without paying a Cable/Satellite company for a package and then paying them more for HBO/Showtime. If they had a service where I could pay for just the networks I want and have the content streamed to me via the internet I would so go for that.

Morally I don't see the issue, these shows (at least most of them I think) are free to air anyway. Yes the commercials do pay for them, but no one watches the commercials anyway. Am I pirating a TV show if I change the channel or go to the kitchen during the ads? Plus you can record them legally too, not much difference.

At least the top-pirated shows are really good shows. I'm not surprised the overall numbers are lower than before, since the over quality of TV is getting worse, nobody wants to bother going through any trouble to watch most of it

I stream all my shows from there if i think they are good enough they are downloaded so far thats 7 downloaded and 1 streamed as SHoTTa said TerraNova is... iffy.

As someone mentioned above in the UK we have to wait a stupidly long time for the series to continue and what not, above that the BBC want us to pay for the privilege of a live broadcast something i now refuse to do. My way around it is to watch the shows i like after they have aired, ok i watch some before they aired becaus ei watch the US version but there is nothing saying i can not do that.

Besides im currently on benefits and can not afford the box sets that cost £30-50+ a pop

Dexter Seasons 1-5: £57.99
Game of Thrones: £27.99
True Blood Seasons 1-3: £39.99

Thats just three of them shows, if i had that money i would upgrade my computer or buy a cheap laptop. Im actually surprised Sons of Anarchy isn't there though thats a great show!

ok i watch some before they aired becaus ei watch the US version but there is nothing saying i can not do that

You are still infringing on copyrights wether its the US version or the Martian version you cant justify downloading them just because you cant afford them or a TV Licence.

TheLegendOfMart said,

You are still infringing on copyrights wether its the US version or the Martian version you cant justify downloading them just because you cant afford them or a TV Licence.

Please get it right, i can afford a TV license BUT i refuse to pay for it because there is too much crap on the tv so its not worth the money. I never said what i was doing was right either, but i see you like to try and look smart and twist things, lets look at you i bet some of your games, tvshows, movies, phone apps and computer software isn;t 100% legit either.

Xoligy said,

Please get it right, i can afford a TV license BUT i refuse to pay for it because there is too much crap on the tv so its not worth the money. I never said what i was doing was right either, but i see you like to try and look smart and twist things, lets look at you i bet some of your games, tvshows, movies, phone apps and computer software isn;t 100% legit either.


I never said they where but dont try and justify copyright infringment by saying you cant afford it.

TheLegendOfMart said,

I never said they where but dont try and justify copyright infringment by saying you cant afford it.

Im not your the one thats bringing up copyright infringement im stating not everyone is made of money especially at the moment when europe and america are in debt. I dont get your problem so im just going to leave it here as you failed at being a smart ass.

Xoligy said,

Im not your the one thats bringing up copyright infringement im stating not everyone is made of money especially at the moment when europe and america are in debt. I dont get your problem so im just going to leave it here as you failed at being a smart ass.


Don't watch TV then, no one is forcing you

the only show i downloaded are Family Guy and American Dad. Usually i wait for a special and i buy them on Bluray (if available)...

I don't want to get into a debate here, but how is "downloading" any different than "PVR'ing/VCRing (for those of you who remember what a VCR is)? I mean, I understand what piracy is, but either way, you're still acquiring a copy of the show for viewing at a later time. I would say the only difference is that with a PVR/VCR, you paid for the cable...but that's a stretch.

The problem is always the distribution method. It's not say watching the show on your VCR vs your Media Player or PC, it's how you got it in the first place is where copyright act gets you into trouble. People aren't allowed to distribute other people's content without permission so if you are getting it from an unauthorized source, then you'll have a problem.

House, Terra Nova are the only ones on that list that I'd bother downloading if I missed an episode. Even Terra Nova is kinda iffy

I have to say after watching my favorites TV shows online, I go to best buy and buy a copy after they are release....

These numbers don't include downloads from file-sharing websites like Rapidshare or Megaupload, right? So the actual number of downloads are even bigger.

Setnom said,
These numbers don't include downloads from file-sharing websites like Rapidshare or Megaupload, right? So the actual number of downloads are even bigger.

Or from private trackers, which I use to download them.

I've stopped watching a series before because I missed an episode, and it was one of those series that each episode builds on the previous one. The only options I had at the time were 1) keep watching and try to figure out what I missed, 2) stop watching for now, wait half a year for the season to be available on DVD, and watch the remaining episodes that way, or 3) stop watching the series.

I also have noticed that often the previous season will be released on DVD *after* the next season starts airing. How does that make any sense? My wife and I never got into "How I Met Your Mother" until we happened to catch a rerun and liked it. So we methodically ordered each season on DVD through Netflix, and caught up. Except last year's season was released after this season started airing on CBS. Obviously we weren't about to watch the new episodes until we watched last season, so I decided to DVR this season. Except we had a DVR conflict and missed a few episodes. So with "How I Met Your Mother," I just give up and will wait for each remaining season to be released on DVD.

I admittedly have downloaded quite a few on that list, although I wouldn't if they were aired the same time in the UK and not 6-12 months down the line. These big TV companies don't seem to realise that people abroad are going to get fed up of waiting rather quickly. The only good channel that seems to air their shows a few days or a week later is Sky with Sky 1 and Atlantic; House, Modern Family, The Middle and The Simpsons just to name a few. If FX (UK Fox) decided to air Dexter at week later than the US, heck i'd wait a week to get it legitimately.

Damn corporations still living in the past. Get with the darn time!

A few on there I've been downloading... I'd love to pay for my downloads but they won't let me. Why not let iTunes sell your TV Shows worldwide (everywhere on the same date)?

The only alternative I'm given that is completely legal is to wait at least 6 months for any given show to start airing on local TV with annoying ads and SD quality... Well I guess I could move to the UK or US, but a bit impractical...

Something many of these shows have in common? They are not available on hulu/netflix. If people can't obtain them through legal methods easily (i, for instance, am not going to subscribe to HBO just to watch one show) they will turn to pirating.

Tharp Daddy said,
Something many of these shows have in common? They are not available on hulu/netflix. If people can't obtain them through legal methods easily (i, for instance, am not going to subscribe to HBO just to watch one show) they will turn to pirating.

That's likely a factor but I think a larger part consist of people (like me) that do not live in the US or UK and don't have any way to pay for it other than waiting several months for local TV to air the shows.

Leonick said,

That's likely a factor but I think a larger part consist of people (like me) that do not live in the US or UK and don't have any way to pay for it other than waiting several months for local TV to air the shows.

I'll freely admit I got dexter off the net, the only series you can get in this country is 3 or so? 6 just finished on monday in the US...

Tharp Daddy said,
Something many of these shows have in common? They are not available on hulu/netflix. If people can't obtain them through legal methods easily (i, for instance, am not going to subscribe to HBO just to watch one show) they will turn to pirating.

And how do you explain the half that are available through free and legal means online, that require no subscription?

giantpotato said,

And how do you explain the half that are available through free and legal means online, that require no subscription?

They aren't free or even available in many countries, in an acceptable time frame and quality at least.

they will never or too late to do anything ...

with the download caps and all other ISP BS people will fight them and embrace piracy even more.... big companies can only push for so much until the general public revolts, and when it does ... well ... probably never ... bah, a bunch of chickens

artzm said,

Books are never as good as the movie/show.


You really should read the books. I saw the show first and decided I couldn't wait until Season 2. Try to use this thing called imagination? Then the book will be just as good. Lets try to prevent our society from becoming the future society of the movie "Idiocracy".

ghos said,

Depends on the book. Books can go into more detail of the story.

Almost ll the time. However, Game of Thrones was pretty true to the book. That's what made me decide to go ahead and read the other books.

UndergroundWire said,

I read the books. It's pretty good.

Watched the show, now reading the books. Can't wait for the next season!

artzm said,

Books are never as good as the movie/show.

To make a statement like this you either you don't read or can't read! Most decent stories can never be replicated in a movie or even a series! Yes there are exceptions, but the rule would HAVE to be books are better when it comes to conveying the story accurately and the detail involved!