The end of the year is littered with lists and rankings of various kinds, tallying up the usual suspects, like highest grossing, most watched, and best-reviewed films and TV shows of the year. And 2016 is no different. But while everyone is busy celebrating the financial success of films like Captain America: Civil War, or the critical praise heaped upon shows like The People v. O.J. Simpson or Stranger Things, there's a more dubious honor waiting to be bestowed upon some of the year's pop cultural offerings: the most pirated TV shows of 2016.
Every year it becomes a bizarre badge of honor worn by various TV networks, showrunners, and actors who learn the true depths of their show's popularity by discovering just how many fans they have who are also unwilling to pay for the entertainment they enjoy. For the past five years, that honor has been bestowed upon HBO's Game of Thrones, but the series is not alone, as both AMC's The Walking Dead and newcomer Westworld have taken the second and third spots on the list of most-pirated TV shows in 2016.
The information comes from a report by TorrentFreak, which complied most of the data using stats from public BitTorrent trackers. Unsurprisingly, the data illustrates just how popular genre TV shows are, and how the big-budget spectacle of HBO's series in addition to the premium cabler's subscription-based model, seemingly creates the ideal scenario for some viewers to access its offerings through unconventional means.
While the idea of Game of Thrones season 6 retaining the top spot of most-pirated shows is no surprise – especially considering the off-season questions regarding Jon Snow's fate – it may be even less of a surprise to see a show like Westworld rank so high following its first season. The sci-fi Western seemed engineered specifically to populate Reddit threads, podcasts, and other online discussions with theories about its puzzle-like narrative, so the high rate at which the show was pirated serves as another indication how many people were eager to take part in the conversation – regardless of whether or not they have an HBO subscription.
Meanwhile, considering how much (likely unwanted) publicity The Walking Dead received for its slipping ratings during the first half of season 7, its spot as the second most-pirated TV show of 2016 likely stings a bit more, as those pirating eyeballs might have helped stem the tide of lost viewership. But The Walking Dead's placement near the top is also curious because there are fewer hoops to jump through in order to access it legally than, say, Game of Thrones or Westworld. The same goes for many of the other shows populating the list. The Flash, Arrow, Big Bang Theory, and Lucifer are all series that only require a basic cable subscription but can also be accessed for free in HD via and over-the-air antenna in most places in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the report doesn't break down television piracy by region, so it's difficult to determine the degree to which availability plays a role in why a show is being pirated. Regardless of the reason why, piracy continues to be a concern for those in the entertainment industry, and as this list proves, it has also become yet another way in which entertainment is ranked at the end of each year.