What's the digital version of Doubloons, the favorite treasure of pirates? Game of Thrones is the answer for 21st century digital pirates.
The hit HBO show topped blog TorrentFreak's study of the most pirated shows of 2012, which skewed heavily toward pay cable and genre shows.
TorrentFreak reports that the top Game of Thrones episode was illegally downloaded 4.28 million times in 2012, though more than 90 percent of the downloads occur in the first week of a show's first-run airing.
For comparison, the June 3 season two finale drew 4.2 million viewers in the U.S. during its first-run airing on HBO, a ratings record for the show.
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The second most pirated show was Showtime's Dexter with 3.85 million first-week downloads, topping its legal U.S. audience of 2.75 million.
The top broadcast network show on the list is CBS's The Big Bang Theory with 3.2 million illegal downloads. CBS also had the second most pirated network show with no. 4's How I Met Your Mother (2.96 million downloads).
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Breaking Bad, with 2.58 million downloads (vs. 2.98 million U.S. viewers) was the most pirated top basic cable show. Rounding out the top ten were The Walking Dead (AMC), Homeland (Showtime), House (Fox), Fringe (Fox), and Revolution (NBC).
The peacock network's J.J. Abrams show about a near-future world without power was the only freshman show to crack the top 10 list.
TorrentFreak estimates that more than 80 percent of the illegal TV downloads occur outside the United States.
For example, the site looked closely at the downloads for Game of Thrones' season two finale. More than 10 percent of the total pirated downloads for the finale were from Australia, where the show airs on a one-week delay.
The second most downloads where in the U.S., but that only accounted for 9.7 percent of the total.
The other three countries in the top five--Canada (7.7 percent), U.K. (7.6 percent) and the Netherlands (4.4 percent)--accounted for almost a fifth of the total.
The next four spots were all occupied by European countries: Norway, Spain, Poland, and Greece. In all, Europe's top pirates accounted for a quarter of the Game of Thrones piracy.
The Philippines, at no. 10, was the only non-Western country to crack the top ten list.