Piracy has sure changed a lot since the days when Blackbeard and his ilk terrorized the high seas. Sure, traditional piracy is still rampant today in certain parts of the world, like the waters off the coast of Somalia, but the word’s meaning is more popularly associated with digital piracy. Movies, TV shows, video games, and music piracy are all rampant in the internet age, particularly because it’s both difficult for authorities to police and is so widespread so as to not feel like a criminal offense. It may seem like a victimless crime (especially considering the targets are largely multi-billion dollar entertainment companies), but internet piracy is a huge issue, especially in today’s fractured television landscape. As reported by TorrentFreak, the following 10 shows topped the list of illegal downloads for 2014 (single episode).
10. South Park
It may be the lowest entry on the list, but South Park’s ability to crack the top 10 most pirated TV shows is nothing to sneer at. Now in its 18th season, South Park is still a very culturally relevant series thanks to its biting satire and quick episode production cycle. It’s also the only show on the list to have roughly the same number of viewers as it did downloads, with 2.4 million for each. Piracy doesn’t seem to be hurting South Park to the same degree as some other shows, as its creators have stated that the high piracy numbers have led to increased exposure.
Legal dramas are prolific in the television landscape but none of them skew quite as effectively to the young adult demographic as USA’s Suits, which helps explain why it was able to crack the top 10. TorrentFreak reports numbers as high as 2.5 million downloads for Suits, which is only slightly lower than its viewership of 2.8 million – a raw deal no amount of witty legal quips will solve.
The gap between downloads and viewers is spaced out a bit more with History’s flagship drama, Vikings. Viking’s 3.5 million viewers are at least higher than its 2.7 million illegal downloads by almost one million. Still, nobody involved with Vikings is likely thrilled to be among the top pirated TV shows, especially for a historical drama with a high budget and modest ratings.
7. Grey’s Anatomy
It may not be the best accolade, but Grey’s Anatomy’s placement on this list is proof of how the show’s enduring popularity, which is remarkable given that it’s been on the air for almost 11 years now. Unlike most of the other shows in the top 10, Grey’s Anatomy benefits from its cross-generational appeal, as its 2.8 million downloads are outpaced significantly by an impressive 9.8 million-strong viewership. If every show could bolster similar numbers, piracy might not be as significant a problem as it currently is.
Considering Arrow’s high piracy numbers, it feels like a safe bet that its sister show, The Flash, has a good shot at cracking the top 10 as well next year. All things considered, it makes a lot of sense for Arrow to appear so high on this list. It’s a superhero show featuring a young cast of very attractive men and women, which are all features that appeal to a young, download-happy audience. Unfortunately, there probably isn’t time in Oliver Queen’s busy crime fighting schedule to bring his show’s 2.9 million pirates to justice.
The newest show on the list, having only started its 1st season last fall, Gotham is a mediocre crime drama that benefits significantly from its ties to the Batman intellectual property. 3.2 million downloads were its highest numbers last year, while its viewership was a very impressive 11.8 million. Much like Grey’s Anatomy, there are enough viewers legally watching Gotham to make up for its sizable piracy numbers.
4. How I Met Your Mother
Not much of a surprise here, considering that the popular CBS sitcom came to a much publicized close last year with its 8th season. The controversial season finale drew in an estimated 3.5 million downloads, while the estimated U.S. audience viewership was a little over 13 million. Unlike the other programs in the top 10, don’t expect How I Met Your Mother to make an appearance on this year’s list (unless pirates really love reruns).
3. The Big Bang Theory
It’s been the most popular sitcom for far too many years now, so it’s really no surprise to see The Big Bang Theory so high on this list. It has the distinction of being both one of the most pirated shows on television with 3.9 million illegal downloads and one of the highest rated with an amazing 17.3 million viewers. Surely, the powers that be at CBS would like it better if those 4 million downloaders were giving them money, but The Big Bang Theory is the rare program that doesn’t really need to worry about its high piracy numbers.
2. The Walking Dead
Following a similar pattern as most of the other top programs on this list, The Walking Dead is simultaneously one of the most watched TV shows in terms of both downloads and actual viewership. At 4.8 million downloads, The Walking Dead has a serious piracy problem. Luckily, a lot of people love the show, with an astounding average of 17.3 million viewers tuning in each week, which is all the more impressive given the show’s very mature subject matter.
1. Game of Thrones
The top dog for 3 years running, it’s fitting that the most pirated show would also be the only one gated off behind a paid subscription service. The popular HBO fantasy drama is the only show on this list to record more illegal downloads than actual viewers, with 8.1 million in the former camp significantly outweighing the 7.1 million in the latter group. The piracy numbers for Game of Thrones are so high, a more apt tagline for the show might be “Piracy is Coming” because it’s a safe bet that the show will top 2015’s piracy list too.