Way to go, kids! It's all your fault that Heroes will be canceled! Well, not really, but you're pushing it. According to the blog TorrentFreak, which reports on the Internet black market known as file-sharing, NBC's Heroes was the most illegally downloaded television show of 2009.
The stat shouldn't be taken as gospel, however, as the site merely lists the number of downloads for a show's most popular episode and not its entire season run (not to mention that it's tough to swallow empirical data from a site with "freak" in its name). Still, TorrentFreak claims that the most-pirated episode of Heroes (the particulars of the episode were not disclosed) was "stolen" approximately 6,580,000 times. That's over half a million more than the show's average TV audience.
Overall, sci-fi and action dominated the list of most-pirated shows, with Lost (6,310,000 downloads), Prison Break (3,450,000), Dexter (2,780,000), and House (2,590,000) rounding out the top five. Eight of the top ten entries were broadcast shows, and two were premium-cable shows (Dexter and no. 10 True Blood), indicating that TV piracy isn't committed primarily by those who don't want to pay extra for HBO and Showtime, but rather by those who don't want to pay for cable at all and are willing to watch on their dinky computer monitors.
And while online piracy is thought to be the realm of the male basement nerd, both Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives made the top ten list. Either female basement nerds are getting into the act too, or the guys out there are getting soft. That's what happens when you dudes gender-swap and level a female night elf to 70 in World of Warcraft.
Overall, the takeaway from these numbers isn't that there are millions of horrible people out there stealing TV (a large chunk of the downloads is thought to be from foreign markets that can't get the shows legally), it's this: Television viewing habits are changing. Networks shouldn't be looking for ways to stop illegal downloading, but rather to find a way to make it work to their advantage.
Show Title, Downloads of most-popular episode
1. Heroes, 6,580,000
2. Lost, 6,310,000
3. Prison Break, 3,450,000
4. Dexter, 2,780,000
5. House, 2,590,000
6. 24, 2,440,000
7. Desperate Housewives, 2,180,000
8. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, 1,960,000
9. Grey's Anatomy, 1,740,000
10. True Blood, 1,600,000