Does illegal downloading hurt popular TV shows?

Last year Game of Thrones was the most torrented show and this season’s opener hit 1 million downloads within 24 hours.

Last year Game of Thrones was the most torrented show and this season’s opener hit 1 million downloads within 24 hours. HBO’s hit is shown through its own network worldwide or through Sky Atlantic in Ireland and the UK. However does this leave the show open to damaging illegal downloading?

First off, when it comes to illegal downloading I’m still unsure about the damage. Game of Thrones director David Petrarca seemed less than bothered about the issue and claimed it created “buzz” around the show. The show broke HBO records when it was released on DVD so it obviously is generating money for the network. The series ratings have continued to rise on both sides of the Atlantic as well.

I will admit that HBO, in my opinion, creates some of the best TV and films, along with the other US premium network, Showtime. I’m practically obsessed with HBO’s The Newsroom, watched Game of Thrones first season in two days and have a love/hate relationship with Girls and True Blood. With Showtime I still watch The Tudors (even as a history nerd I can look over its issues) and I still keep up with Californication.

The one thing that sets these networks apart from the others is they can throw money at programmes. HBO gave Games of Thrones around $60 million (£39.4 million) for its first season and the budget increased by 15% for the second. This has given the show the ability to film worldwide and spend money improving with a seasonally budget that is more than most films would get.

If you compare this to other networks it’s a drastic change. ABC’s Castle is majority filmed in L.A. because it’s cheaper than filming in New York. This is the same for most shows—they’re filmed in cheap locations to save money.

When it comes to broadcasting shows on UK premium packages such as Sky, this is needed for most shows. Although a handful of the shows are on E4 and ITV2, most are shown on channels which are only available for those willing to spend money on packages. It’s not just major Sky channels, Alibi hosts the majority of US crime shows, while Comedy Central shows US programming as well. 

Illegal downloading of other shows is not just due to being on premium channels. Some programming takes weeks, if not months to cross the Atlantic and then again some don’t get shown. BBC4 has recently picked up Parks and Recreation, five years after the original US broadcast. It’s only recently when Sky took over channels such as Living that waiting times have been reduced but can still be months behind.

Yes, this use of premium channels alienates a group of lower income people and families. When it comes to the UK to watch most shows that are shown from across the Atlantic, even those free in America, they need to pay for the channels. Even then, if you look at the top 100 downloaded shows on torrent sites, the shows aren’t just American shows from Premium networks. Every network is included in the list.

But then, as I’ve said, Games of Thrones and other shows such as Boardwalk Empire, The Tudors and The Borgia’s wouldn’t have the budget to become the shows they were. Boardwalk Empire’s budget for the pilot alone was $18 million (£11.8 million).

Piracy isn’t always something that artists want to talk about. Katy Perry has gone on record saying that illegal downloads helped her career at the start. It’s also a way for unknown artists to get there music out there and has led to them selling to larger audiences when playing tours. Pink has on the other hand condemned it, saying that it’s the reason why artists are touring more because it’s the only way they make money. I just don’t think they’re as hard up as she’s acting.

Although online piracy is damaging, it also has its plus points. I’m sure I read somewhere that people who illegal download also buy more and are more likely to go to cinemas. This might have been on Tumblr so don’t take it as fact. If it were truly putting the industries into danger, more would be done about it.

But to me, we pay for films and music. To pay to see a few TV shows isn’t that bad. And if it means great shows like Game of Thrones are created carry on.

What do you think of piracy? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.