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Piracy, bitch! Breaking Bad Season 5 Part 2 broke records this week as it returned to screens around the world. The problem is that not all of them were legal.
Blood Money, Episode 9 of the final season, was broadcast in the US on Sunday night – and within a matter of hours was available on Netflix UK, the first time this had happened for the show.
In America, the show saw a staggering 5.9 million viewers tune in on AMC – the most in the series’ history and a 102 per cent jump from the premiere of Season 5 Part 1 last summer. But within hours of the broadcast, 80,000 people were already sharing the episode on BitTorrent, according to Torrent Freak – which predicts that the show is well on the way to beating last year’s record of 2.58 million downloads.
After 12 hours, Torrent Freak adds, half a million users had nabbed themselves a copy. That number’s still growing.
So what’s the deal, yo?
AMC president and general manager Charlie Collier commented on the Breaking Bad blog: “For Breaking Bad to continue to deliver record-setting ratings in its fifth and final season is remarkable.”
It is. Variety puts that unprecedented surge down to Netflix – with viewers able to catch up at their own speed and at little cost, video on-demand has allowed the show’s audience to increase even when it’s not on air. The result? A growing number of fans all binge viewing in preparation for the final eight episodes so they can watch it live.
But with all those viewers came a lot of tweets: almost 400,000 unique Twitter users were talking about the show between 7pm and 10pm EST, according to SocialGuide. But when America tweets about something, everyone sees it: all that instant social buzz around TV episodes and movies leaves those in the UK and other countries wanting to watch as well. With spoilers lurking around every digital corner and no patience to wait for their own territory’s release, people turn to piracy to get their fix.
It’s the old Game of Thrones problem: HBO are still waiting 12 months to release the show on DVD after its broadcast on Sky, making it the most pirated show of 2012 with each episode downloaded an average 4.28 million times.
Time Warner CEO Alan Bewkes won loads of media attention when he recently declared that piracy was a good thing. “We’ve been dealing with this for 20, 30 years – people sharing subs, running wires down the backs of apartment buildings,” he said. “Our experience is that it leads to more paying subs.”
“I think you’re right that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world and that’s better than an Emmy.”
But AMC have finally gotten wise to the potential of VOD to combat piracy. By releasing the episode within 24 hours across the pond, Netflix gave viewers an affordable, accessible alternative to illegal downloads.
Still, even then, 80,000 people? Doesn’t that shoot the theory in the foot?
Actually, no. A quick glance through Torrent Freak’s figures show that most illegal downloads came from Australia, which accounted for 16.1 per cent.
The UK? Just 8.5 per cent, below Canada and the US. Why? Because Netflix UK had it available to stream. Australia, on the other hand, had it on a premium TV network called Foxtel – the equivalent of Sky’s broadcast of Game of Thrones in the UK.
The Netherlands, bizarrely, took fifth place in the charts, even though it premiered on public TV.
Why? Maybe it’s a case of habit – years of waiting for things to be broadcast and avoiding premium subscriptions have bred a generation of people who treat piracy like a PVR or a free on-demand service.
For AMC, the premiere of Season Five Part 2 shows that bringing Breaking Bad’s release date forward for the UK is the best way to start getting people to break that habit. Compared to Game of Thrones’ illegal download figures, AMC’s show is faring far better. How much higher would those numbers be if Netflix hadn’t come along?
Whatever Alan Bewkes may say, you can bet someone at HBO is working that out right now.
Breaking Bad is available to watch on Netflix now. Read our review of Blood Money here.