Pirates Jump on “The Walking Dead” Despite Legal Options

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The start of the fourth season of "The Walking Dead" has resulted in a worldwide piracy craze. More than half a million people downloaded a copy of the show during the first few hours following its premiere, despite efforts to minimize the release lag to 24 hours in 125 countries. Fox had hopes that the global release would curb online piracy but thus far there is little evidence that this is the case, not even in the U.S. where AMC streams the show for free.

walkingdeadFor years international TV-fans have complained about long release delays.

In some cases people had to wait up to a year to view their favorite show after the U.S. release, which is unacceptable for most die-hard fans.

Responding to this criticism the TV industry has systematically improved traditional release windows. The recent premiere of The Walking Dead’s fourth season is a prime example of how the industry is adapting to the signals pirates have been sending for years.

To remove one of the incentives for people to grab an unauthorized copy of the show, Fox International Channels premiered the show in 125 countries a day after it first aired on US television.

“We want to prevent the spoilers for sure, we also want to make sure [international viewers] get the best version of the show — not some pirated version,” Liz Dolan, Fox International Channel’s chief marketing officer told The Wrap.

Unfortunately for Fox, however, pirated versions are available in better quality than most legal streaming options. Also, the download numbers have not declined, quite the opposite.

Data gathered by TorrentFreak shows that 16 hours after the first episode appeared online more than half a million people had grabbed a copy through one of many torrent sites. This is more than last year’s season premiere, despite the legal viewing options.

Interestingly, most downloaders come from the U.S. where there is no release lag at all.

Based on a sample of more than 30,000 people who shared the show via a BitTorrent client, we see that the United States is in the lead with 15.5 percent of the total. This means that even though people can stream the episode for free, many still preferred to download it through a torrent site.

In the U.K and Australia there was a slight delay but even legal availability couldn’t prevent people from pirating the season opening. With 11.7 and 10.1 percent these countries are second and third respectively. The Philippines and Canada complete the top five with 8.8 and 6.8 percent of the total.

sample N=33,918
# Country % City %
1 United States 15.5% London 3.8%
2 United Kingdom 11.7% Melbourne 2.8%
3 Australia 10.1% Manila 2.3%
4 Philippines 8.8% Sydney 1.8%
5 Canada 6.8% Stockholm 1.7%
6 Brazil 3.3% Lisbon 1.4%
7 The Netherlands 2.7% Athens 1.3%
8 Sweden 2.5% Brisbane 1.2%
9 France 2.3% Helsinki 1.1%
10 Poland 2.2% Amsterdam 1.1%

Fox has to be applauded for making the show available quickly in so many territories, something that was unthinkable half a decade ago. It’s safe to say that the download numbers would have been much higher without these efforts, although at the moment piracy is far from defeated.

In part this might be because some prefer the unauthorized download option simply out of habit. This is especially true for U.S. file-sharers. As we reported earlier this year, many people who pay for a Netflix subscription downloaded Netflix’s exclusive Arrested Development release, preferring the download experience over online streaming.

There is also another group, one that simply doesn’t want to pay for a subscription, which is required in Australia for example. It’s also possible that they are just unhappy with the viewing options currently on offer. In many countries viewers still have to tune in at a fixed time slot while many prefer to program their own viewing schedule.

The challenge for the entertainment industry is to take away these leftover incentives, and make sure that the legal options become the default. For some people it may be too late to be converted, but for most there’s still hope.


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