Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead are the three most illegally downloaded TV programs of 2013, according to TorrentFreak. It's the second year in a row that Game of Thrones has earned that distinction. Downloaders torrented the show's season finale 5.9 million times this year. Breaking Bad achieved its Number Two ranking thanks to 4.2 million downloads (for a single episode), and The Walking Dead made it to Number Three with 3.6 million downloads.
Game of Thrones set another piracy record earlier this year. In June, more than 170,000 people shared the season finale simultaneously, and over the course of a day more than a million people downloaded the show.
In August, Jeff Bewkes, the CEO of Time Warner – the parent company of HBO – praised the show's "word of mouth" buzz and even spoke positively about the effect of piracy on its popularity. "Our experience is that it leads to more paying [HBO subscriptions]," he told Adweek. "I think you're right that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. That's better than an Emmy."
Similarly, director David Petrarca, who has helmed two Game of Thrones episodes, shrugged off illegal downloading. In February, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the director drew a correlation between piracy and "cultural buzz" in a panel interview at Perth's Writers' Festival. Regarding how shows like Game of Thrones capitalize and benefit from social commentary, he said, "That's how they survive."
Conversely, The Walking Dead executive producer Gale Anne Hurd – whose show was available for streaming online for free this year, but was nevertheless pirated over half a million times, according to TorrentFreak – rebuked the others' notions that piracy is a good thing. "There's a mistaken belief by many of my peers that piracy is somehow good, that viewers will develop a habit to pay for it," she said at a Q&A event for Variety this month. "I'm not sure they really understand other than anecdotal evidence that their ratings go up that the people who pirate are not then going to choose legal downloads or legal viewing in the future."
According to TorrentFreak, in general, people downloaded shows most frequently in the first week after the show aired. The source cites HBO's exclusivity as a major reason why people download shows. The Associated Press reported last year that channels such as HBO and Showtime have been hesitant to license series like Game of Thrones and Dexter to Netflix, because those networks are worried about losing subscribers to the streaming service.
Other shows making the list of most illegal downloads include The Big Bang Theory, Dexter, How I Met Your Mother, Suits, Homeland, Vikings and Arrow. TorrentFreak charted its list based on "several sources," BitTorrent trackers among them; it did not include online streaming or "cyberlocker downloads," as there are no sources tracking these.