It is safe to say that BitTorrent is slowly replacing Tivo. Some episodes of popular TV-shows such as “Lost”, “Prison Break” and “Heroes” get up to
10 5 million downloads per episode, spread over hundreds of sites. This number is getting awfully close to the average number of viewers on TV in the US. However, the major difference is that the BitTorrent “viewers” come from all over the world.
In January TorrentFreak published the list of “most downloaded TV-shows“, where we showed that the most popular episode of “Heroes” was downloaded 2.5 million times on Mininova alone. Even more impressive -across all BitTorrent sites- more than a billion episodes are downloaded every year worldwide.
The graph below shows the percentage of .torrent files per category downloaded on Mininova over the last 2 years – over 40 percent are TV-shows. To support this, we analyzed a sample of 400,000 torrents earlier this year. That data indicated that approximately half of all the people using BitTorrent at any given point in time, were using it to download a TV-show.
The popularity of TV-torrents hasn’t gone unnoticed. In fact, there are reports of TV-studios that allegedly use BitTorrent as a marketing tool, by leaking unaired pilots intentionally. While the movie and music studios continue to fight their “war on piracy”, most of the TV-studios lay low.
On the contrary, Anne Sweeney -the president of the Disney-ABC television group- admitted that she was “inspired” after seeing a pirated copy of the hit-show “Desperate Housewives”. The pirated copy of this popular TV show was the main reason (besides the money) for Disney to sell their shows online. “Coming ‘face to face’ with the high-quality, commercial-free pirated version (of Desperate Housewives) told Disney that it was not just competing with other broadcasters, but with digital pirates and as such was an experience that prompted us to do the iTunes deal with Apple.” Sweeney said at the time.
BitTorrent’s popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed by actors either. Masi Oka who plays Hiro Nakamura in the popular show “Heroes”, made some pro-BitTorrent comments earlier this year. When he was in France to promote the series (before they aired), he was surprised to see how many people had already seen the show thanks to BitTorrent. Oka said that BitTorrent is a great promotion tool, but added “Hopefully, if they can buy the DVD after they watch it on BitTorrent, that would be great.”
One of the members of EZTV, the leading TV-torrent distribution group, told TorrentFreak in an earlier interview that he doesn’t think their work has a negative impact on the TV-industry either. “The only possible impacts can see are positive ones,” Boggibill said “it is free publicity, which may lead to higher ratings when people “discover” new shows and also larger numbers of DVD purchases – it is my understanding that many of the people that download TV shows from us are avid TV fans and will usually buy DVD boxsets of shows they like.”
A factor that plays a role in the rise of unauthorized downloading of TV-shows is that most people simply don’t see it as stealing. It is a signal that customers want something that is not available through other channels and it’s more about availability than the fact that it’s free. It’s not a threat, but more an opportunity.