CBS Blackout Triggers Surge in TV-Show Piracy

Since Friday more than three million Time Warner customers throughout the United States have lost access to CBS programming, including the popular Showtime network. In what appears to be a direct result of the blackout, the percentage of unauthorized downloads from affected regions has risen pretty dramatically this week. Piracy rates of the popular show "Under The Dome" shot up 34% over the weekend, while official ratings dropped.

underthedomeOne of the main motivations for people to download and stream TV-shows from unauthorized sources is availability.

If fans can’t get a show through legal channels they often turn to pirated alternatives.

So when Time Warner Cable dropped CBS last Friday after the companies failed to reach a broadcasting agreement, there was a good chance that many of the blacked-out subscribers would turn to file-sharing networks to get their fix.

Data gathered by TorrentFreak shows that this is indeed the case for the popular show “Under The Dome.”

To find out whether download rates in the affected markets increased, we monitored U.S. BitTorrent downloads of last week’s episode as well as the one that aired this Monday following the blackout.

The data from these two samples show that in Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit and Pittsburgh, relatively more people downloaded the latest episode, an indication that customers are turning to unauthorized channels to get the show.

With hundreds of thousands of downloads Under The Dome is one of the most pirated TV-shows at the moment. Of all sampled downloaders in the U.S. 10.9% came from the blackout regions for last week’s episode, and this increased to 14.6% for Monday’s episode, a 34% increase.

In New York City, one of the largest affected markets, the relative piracy rate more than doubled from 1.3% of all U.S. downloads last week to 3% for the episode that aired after the blackout.

Worldwide, the latest Under The Dome episode was downloaded slightly more than previous episodes. This means that the relative increase in piracy rates also resulted in more downloads. More tracking is required to show a long-term effect, and whether the results are the same for other CBS shows.

While one should always be careful of drawing strong conclusions from city-based data, especially when we don’t know how many downloaders are Time Warner Cable subscribers, these initial results do suggest that the blackout resulted in a local piracy surge.

At the same time that piracy spiked, the official ratings took a large hit. On Monday, Under The Dome reached its season low ranking with only 10.49 million viewers compared to 11.41 million the week before.

Meanwhile, Time Warner and CBS are still unable to reach an agreement. Yesterday Time Warner’s Chief Executive Glenn Britt offered to include CBS as an “a la carte” option for its subscribers but CBS dismissed the proposal as “a sham.”

As long as this standoff continues it’s expected that more and more TV fans will turn to unauthorized channels to watch their favorite shows, with the risk that some may never come back.

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