Most pirated TV shows of 2012: Top 10

Game of Thrones was recently named as TorrentFreak’s “most pirated show of 2012”, with one episode seeing 4.28-million downloads over the BitTorrent protocol according to the site’s sources.

The BitTorrent and copyright news blog explained that it collected data for its top 10 lists from several sources, including reports from all public BitTorrent trackers.

TorrentFreak’s ranking of the most pirated TV shows is also based on the most downloaded single episode in the series, rather than all episodes released during the year.

It is interesting to note that TorrentFreak’s ranking and that given by US TV ratings do not necessarily correlate.

The prevailing theory explaining this phenomenon is that fans outside the US don’t want to wait for the show to air in their region and were unable to get it through official online channels.

A panel from The Oatmeal's Game of Thrones comic
“I tried to watch Game of Thrones and this is what happened” – The Oatmeal (click for full comic)

This resulted in an interesting discussion around copyright holders such as HBO offering shows directly to viewers online, spawning Matt Inman’s famous comic about the issue on The Oatmeal, and Jake Caputo’s website

Caputo’s site asked users to specify how much they are willing to pay HBO directly for a subscription to HBO GO, its online streaming service available only through certain pay-TV operators.

This generated a tweet that included the price and the hashtag #takemymoneyhbo.

Dominic Balasuriya, a programmer, went on to write a simple script to use the Twitter API to calculate the average price users were tweeting, which initially came to about $12.

Most downloaded TV-shows on BitTorrent, 2012
Rank Show Downloads Estimated US TV viewers
1 Game of Thrones 4,280,000 4,200,000
2 Dexter 3,850,000 2,750,000
3 The Big Bang Theory 3,200,000 15,820,000
4 How I Met Your Mother 2,960,000 10,140,000
5 Breaking Bad 2,580,000 2,980,000
6 The Walking Dead 2,550,000 10,870,000
7 Homeland 2,400,000 2,360,000
8 House 2,340,000 9,780,000
9 Fringe 2,280,000 3,120,000
10 Revolution 2,130,000 11,650,000
Table originally from

With Twitter limiting API calls to the most recent 1,500 and there being no apparent archive of #takemymoneyhbo tweets, it is inaccurate to claim that people are on average willing to pay $12 for an HBO GO subscription.

Pricing aside, the issue, TechCrunch argued at the time, is that going through pay-TV operators affords HBO benefits that it would lose by going directly to consumers.

This includes the advertising of their content by satellite and cable operators, as well as the infrastructure these players have for distributing content, whether through broadcast technology or online.

If HBO is concerned about the piracy of Game of Thrones, however, TorrentFreak said that they and other branches of the entertainment industry face the challenge of coming up with a business model that allows users to consume what they want at any given time, without losing existing revenue in the process.

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Most pirated TV shows of 2012: Top 10