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As TV Streaming Rises, So Does Internet Piracy


It's a mixed honor, but "Game Of Thrones" is once again TV's most pirated show.


CORNISH: TorrentFreak, a website dedicated to file sharing and copyright news says the dragon-fueled fantasy was illegally downloaded, on average, 14 million times. That's much more than last year and much more than the number of people who watch the show on HBO. The list also includes CBS's comedy "The Big Bang Theory" and NBC's spy thriller "The Blacklist." For more, we turn to Paul Tassi. He writes about technology and the Internet for Forbes. Welcome to the program.

PAUL TASSI: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So, to begin, I called this a mixed honor, and that's because I get the sense that the network see this a little bit as bragging rights - right? - for these shows.

TASSI: Yeah, I mean, for "Game Of Thrones" in particular, the showrunner was, at one point, bragging about being the most pirated show on the Internet because it demonstrates a pretty, you know, big interest in the program, even if these people aren't technically watching it legally.

CORNISH: This was the year that HBO offered a standalone service you could get online for streaming. There's Hulu, right? CBS, NBC - a lot of these channels offer on-demand streaming. So why are free file sharing and piracy sites doing better than ever?

TASSI: Well, you hit on one point. I mean, it's free. (Laughter) Like, piracy is still free, and it's still pretty easy to access. Like, you can type in pretty much any show name, hit a button, and you will have a file that's a complete file of the episode, whereas streaming sites, you know, some of them are still - still have ads on them. Some of them are, you know, run by the networks, and they can be kind of choppy when you need them to be smooth.

So piracy has always kind of been service problem. And as long as piracy is free and easy, it's still going to be kind of a tough alternative for those networks to fight.

CORNISH: Now, why aren't popular shows from, say, Netflix or Amazon Prime on the list, right? I mean, people are paying for those streaming options.

TASSI: Some of it might be that those shows aren't as popular as these other shows yet. But also it's probably because, you know, people pay 10, $15, you know, a month for these services, and they offer a huge amount of content, whereas something like HBO Now, you're getting HBO shows, but you're maybe not getting quite the same level of programming. So while people are willing to shell out for Netflix and just watch "House Of Cards" streaming, they're kind of used to pirating HBO shows at this point, so they're going to kind of keep doing that unless HBO Now becomes really cheap and really reliable.

CORNISH: What is the point, then, of a network having a standalone site, right, like HBO's or going through Hulu. I mean, what have they been able to gain by creating legal streaming sites?

TASSI: I mean, it's a second stream of revenue. So take HBO, whereas a lot of people have HBO attached to their cable package, but a lot of people aren't going to buy a cable package just to watch HBO. So instead of having those people pirate the show, the goal is to have, you know, HBO just offer a standalone service where these people can maybe just pay $15 a month instead of a $100 cable bill if they want to watch HBO.

CORNISH: So they are making money. They're just not able to compete with piracy.

TASSI: Ultimately, I mean, no. Piracy is still just a great alternative, unfortunately, for those who want free content. The best way to fight piracy is to just make your own services better, cheaper, easier to use. And, hopefully, when people, you know, can afford or want to afford to use them and to reward showrunners for making good shows, they will use those options.

CORNISH: Paul Tasso writes about technology and the Internet for Forbes. Thank you so much for chatting with us.

TASSI: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.