What This List Says About Fixing Piracy Problems

by Alanna Bennett

It's both an honor and a burden: Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad top the most-pirated list for 2013. Game Of Thrones takes first place (or, if you're in it for the references: The Iron Throne), while AMC's Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead take second and third place, respectively. In fact, Game Of Thrones — which has broken records in the past for the hefty amount of people who pirate it — had piracy numbers this time around that surpass the amount of people who actually tuned in to watch the show on TV.

This list (which you can see fully further down in this post) is pretty telling, and is especially revealing in the ways that it exposes those simple solutions that networks like HBO, Showtime, and AMC have been covering their ears and screaming their "LALALALALA"s at for years.

So, dear television executives, do you want to know what the first thing is that most millennials do when they decide to watch a TV show? Well, if the full season's already out, they check Netflix. If it's currently airing, they check Hulu. Occasionally they check Amazon's Instant Video service, if they are so inclined.

If all of those options come up dry — as is common with cable shows such as Breaking Bad and Game Of Thrones, as well as ones such as Homeland, Masters Of Sex, etc. — they head to, well, elsewhere on the Interweb.

In a nutshell, it's the secret behind Netflix's smash success: If people don't have to pirate they won't (it's safer for your computer, for one). So you (still talking to the studio execs here) just have to provide them with easy, fast, and cheap ways to watch your content. Most college students (and the demographic in their twenties) don't even own televisions; they do it all on their computer.

If a college student's parents have HBOGo they will likely watch Game Of Thrones through that before they head to a site called "videoweed," but there are two big problems with that:

  1. HBOGo has a habit of being slow, with varying picture quality, and halting, especially in the peak hours after a big show like Game Of Thrones airs. Also:
  2. Not everybody (or their parents) have HBO, and thus access to HBOGo. And, for the time being, HBO does not offer separate subscription for people who only want to use it online and not as a full HBO service.

Hulu and Netflix are not everything. But they are the saving graces of shows that don't wish to be pirated. Breaking Bad is on Netflix, but part of the reason it's on this year's list probably has a whole lot to do with the fact that it wasn't on a service like Hulu — I personally know multiple people who used Netflix as a way to race to catch up with the show's final season, but then they ran out of rope. Netflix only carried the part of the show that's also out on DVD, aka Seasons 1 through 4, aka it was missing the most recent episodes. When they ran out of Netflix, most of these people turned to other (illegal) streaming or downloading sites.

It's the most basic lesson from the first day of high school economics: supply and demand. Studios have the supply, but it's not always being delivered in a way that quite meets the demand. And so, Netflix is actually quite brilliant in its relationship to piracy, and it's what puts them on top: They literally look at lists like this of what's being pirated the most and use those to decide what should get put up on the site next. Prison Break was doing exceptionally well on pirating sites, so they slapped it up and it likely did exceptionally well on Netflix, too.

The reason for Netflix's popularity is incredibly simple: It's easy.

Let's look at the full list of 2013's most-pirated shows:

  1. Game of Thrones: Not on Netflix or Hulu; have to watch HBOGo to watch easily.
  2. Breaking Bad: On Netflix but AMC lacks an easy way to watch new episodes; this was the show's last season so people likely wanted to catch up past the allotted Netflix episodes.
  3. The Walking Dead: On Netflix but AMC lacks an easy way to watch new episodes.
  4. The Big Bang Theory: Not on Netflix, and CBS' streaming player sucks.
  5. Dexter: On Netflix but no easy way to watch the newest episodes without cable (as is Showtime's way); this was the show's last season so people likely wanted to catch up past the allotted Netflix episodes.
  6. How I Met Your Mother: On Netflix but not on Hulu, and CBS' streaming player sucks.
  7. Suits: Not on Netflix, most recent episodes are on Hulu.
  8. Homeland: Not on Netflix, no easy way to watch the newest episodes without cable.
  9. Vikings: On History Channel, aka nobody knows how to best watch that not on the History Channel.
  10. Arrow: On Netflix recently, and The CW has a delay of a week to uploading things to Hulu.

Which is where HBO is at an impasse with Netflix, and where cable networks like AMC are at an impasse with sites like Hulu: HBO won't put their shows on Netflix, because it doesn't fit with their branding and their efforts to plug HBOGo, but as long as they keep this up without making some other major updates, how will the consumer react? They'll pirate, and HBO shows will likely continue to top this list.

As for AMC, most of their shows are currently on Netflix. But the pop culture junkies — the ones who gobble up shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men and The Walking Dead — don't want to wait until the season has ended to watch it on Netflix. The same goes for popular Showtime shows like Homeland and Masters Of Sex : viewers want to gather on Tumblr or Reddit or in their local dining halls/coffee shops/office bathrooms to discuss what the hell is going on with Bob Benson or if Walter White truly got what he deserved. If AMC and Showtime want to keep up, they'll set up an easy way for people to — legally, cheaply, and easily — watch their shows as soon as possible after they air.

Availability is important, but so is timeliness. And as AMC is likely learning through their co-starring role on this list, time is money.

Image: AMC