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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