What Those Breaking Bad Piracy Statistics Actually Say

The single most important rule when reading anything based on statistics is to understand the source and reliability of the information. Never was that more evident than in the much-quoted numbers about how Breaking Bad's final episode has been pirated, with Australia apparently leading the piracy charge. Is that really the case? A careful look at the data suggests not.

The source of this information is research by BitTorrent news site TorrentFreak, which regularly tracks download habits for major TV shows and movies. By TorrentFreak's calculations, more than 500,000 copies of the final Breaking Bad episode were shared within 12 hours of its broadcast. TorrentFreak also claims that 18 per cent of downloads it tracked originated in Australia, a higher total than any other country. Those figures have been very widely reported, including by our sibling sites Gizmodo and Business Insider.

Realistically, we're not going to see any better data than this. There's a commercial incentive for TV networks to have their ratings measured carefully and accurately, so they're prepared to pay to fund such a system and have consistent, comparable data. There's no direct financial benefit to knowing the scale of piracy, so the data will always be piecemeal. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't understand what the figures can tell us, and why we should perhaps be more cautious in interpreting them.

So let's highlight the problems with this data:

It doesn't track all pirate activity TorrentFreak only measured visible public activity on public torrents. That wouldn't include private sharing sites, or people viewing illegal streams. To be fair, the figure is presented as "at least", so that possibility is acknowledged it, but we need to bear it in mind before making blanket statements.

The methodology isn't clearly defined For the headline figure -- more than 500,000 downloads -- all we are told is that "data gathered by TorrentFreak shows that 12 hours after the first copy of the episode appeared online, more than half a million people has grabbed a copy through one of many torrent sites". That's not particularly specific. Which sites? When did the first copy appear?

The sample size is quite small One big source of confusion in a lot of the reportage: While the numbers say more than 500,000 people have downloaded the episode, the figures on which countries were downloading is based on a subset of that group: 13,945, to be precise. While that's still a large number, it isn't spectacularly large. We're not told for this group what period was being measured (which is important for a reason I'll get to shortly).

Identifying originating countries is tricky While an IP address is quite a reliable indicator of country of origin, it isn't foolproof. If you're using a VPN, you could appear to have come from somewhere else. Tracking cities is even less reliable.

We can't eliminate possible sources of bias Given Australia's population size and the fact that Breaking Bad is quite easily accessible legally, our appearance at the top of the country rankings does seem unusual. However, even with the limited data we have, it's possible to conclude either that the figure itself might not be accurate or that the collection methodology biases the results towards Australians.

On the first point: TorrentFreak's list of the top 10 countries downloading accounts for 64 per cent of the total. While it's conceivable that the remaining 36 per cent is spread across much smaller countries, it also seems likely that some of the data couldn't be accurately tracked by country. If you assumed that a quarter of the untracked downloads actually originated from the US -- no big stretch given its population -- then the US would once again be at the head of the pack. Without a clear indication on that point, it's risky (and certainly unscientific) to state unequivocally that Australia downloads more than anyone else. At best, we can say that Australia was the most identifiable source.

The second point. While we aren't given details, the 13,945 downloads tracked would have been measured at a specific point in time. The first torrents would have become available in the middle of the day for Australians, but many people wouldn't search for and download them until they returned home from work. Conversely, in the US, pirate viewers could have begun downloading much closer to broadcast time. If the tracking happened six hours after broadcast, you would expect Australians to be disproportionately higher (taking their first opportunity when at home), and US figures to be lower (since many viewers would have already downloaded and starting viewing).

We don't know that this is what happened, because we don't have enough details of the methodology. But it's not an inconsistent reading of the limited data we have. And if this is the case, we can't claim Australians are the biggest pirates in the world for Breaking Bad: we can only suggest that most people do their torrenting from home.

Finally, consider this. Even if you assume all these figures are reasonable, the 500,000 claimed downloads within 12 hours are a tiny proportion of the 10.3 million people who watched the final episode live on TV in the US. Even on a generous assessment, piracy isn't as popular as sitting down and watching -- at least some of the time.

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Comments

    While I don't want to sound like a "pirates are stealing things! Bad!" poster, I really wish people would just admit why they're doing it, rather than presenting some of the truly pathetic excuses that get rolled out to justify it.

      I do it because I can. I also do it because I am unwilling to pay exorbitant prices for things I don't want in order to get one tiny thing I do want. I grew up with free to air TV, therefor I have an aversion to paying for it. Put it this way, if I couldn't get the torrent and my only option was to sign up for foxtel - then I wouldn't watch the series. If you can't work out why that's a worse option, you need to think harder.

      I love the series and I might buy the Blu-Ray box set which will inevitably be released, or I may not.

      That said, Steam finally made me pay for games, because I could get them easily at a price I felt was reasonable (weekend deals etc). And yes, I know how much money goes into producing things and that these companies are there to make money, but never forget that "things are worth what people are prepared to pay for them."

      If I could get a 1080p stream of the show for 0.99c, I'd probably do it (after I get my damn NBN, of course).

        That should be $0.99, or 99c, depending on your preferred nomenclature.

        I do it because I can. That is the most ridiculous thing I have heard in ages. If you are unwilling to pay, then you do not get. That's how life works. I presume that as a child (on the basis that you are actually an adult) you were fed from home for free? Does this mean you also leave restaurants without paying? Do you also shoplift at the supermarket? Stick a kilo of chicken breasts down your dacks to avoid paying at the checkout?
        I sense that perhaps you would download everything under the sun, because you can. If you were more discerning, you could opt to actually buy something that you actually want, rather than just getting things "because you can". And that is the problem. Just because you can, does not make it right.
        I feel for you and your logic, as this will not serve you well for life in general.

          >Do you also shoplift at the supermarket? Stick a kilo of chicken breasts down your dacks to avoid paying at the checkout?

          You just don't get it. It isn't physical theft, it's making a copy. If I steal a chicken, the previous owner no longer has it. This is a fundamental and very important distinction that some don't understand, or worse, ignore.

          It's right to say that people shouldn't copy it just because they want it, but let's look at it another way.

          If I buy something from iTunes, I often pay more than getting a BluRay from the shops, or by buying a physical book from Dymocks. This really angers a lot of people - it's an obvious con and angers informed consumers. To add salt to the wound, the 1080p downloads off iTunes use low bitrate and don't look good on larger screens. If you disagree with me, tell me your opinion when your screen is 3m wide.

          If I don't get something from iTunes, I have to stuff around with getting something physical that I don't want (eg. a BluRay case and BluRay disk). I have to go to the shop, buy the media and rip it to put it on my PC. Furthermore, when they release BluRay+ media, I have to buy the same movie again. This is an archaic business model that's ready to put out to pasture, and again, is unethical by making you pay for the VHS/DVD/BluRay/BluRay+ for the same movie.

          Now, I have two options - and neither of them suits me, and both of them have questionable business practices around them. What's the alternative???

          Believe it or not, I do buy almost all of my music and movies - but I really do understand people that pirate. I'm often tempted to give the bird to both parties and go the piracy path myself.

            So copying is not theft? Taking someone's intellectual property is not theft? What is your job/profession? How would you like it if I accessed your hard work, and copied it to have this then released under my own banner? In your eyes, this is ok it seems.
            Perhaps I am more selective in what I wish to buy and own, rather than simply watch.
            Your argument falls short, as logic makes a mockery of it.
            The Alternatives for you are simple: Buy the actual item in question and if that is the format is is provided, then so be it. You have to deal with it. That's how things are at present. it will change, but not now.
            Keep up the good work Dan. Nice try. I would love to come and visit and view your 3m wide screen. I am not aware of this being available, so would love to come and see, make a copy and then use at my residence.

              So copying is not theft? No its not. Taking someone's intellectual property is not theft? No its not. The theft that does occur is from those that hold the intellectual property rights from something they did not create and they do not give the creater no where near what they should. This is proven time and time again but gnored by people who chose not to listen to facts but instead choose to listen to the propergonda spawned by those who exploit intellectual property rights for financial means.
              If your logic holds sound, what happens when we apply it to the internet as a whole? The internet relys on copying. Without copying it wouldn't work. You couldn't even view a web page because the web page is coppied, not once but several times. Not only copied to your computer, but coppied to every server in between and using your logic, everytime you view a web page you are violating (at least) one person's intellectual property rights. Does this mean you have stolen their work? No it dosn't because they still have it on their server.
              I'm not saying a pirates logic is sound. I am saying the logic of intellectual property rights needs to be looked at more closly by everyone. We are in the digital age and the logic of intellectual property rights may have worked for centeries but since the inception of computers and the internet this logic is now flawed.

                I would say "making a copy of the chicken isn't theft" - but then there's Monsanto, so maybe it is illegal now :P

          Puh-lease - you are riding that high horse harder than the winner of the Melbourne Cup.
          If people could steal from supermarkets with a tiny to non-existant risk of getting caught, then they would. En masse. Guaranteed,
          I pirate because I can and I am doing very well in life thank you very much. Which must burn the absolute shit out you holier-than-thou types.

          if you want to know why people make excuses and don't just say "I want it for free" It's because of posts like yours that go out of their way to do nothing but insult people.

          Also by your logic you should never let somebody else pay for your meal. Sure it's a gift but you're still taking benefiting from their loss 'because you can' Pay for it yourself! It's how life works, evidently!

          Also pirated goods do not depreciate the possessions of others. Dine'n'dash incurs a loss of food, shoplifting incurs a loss of stock. Pirating incurs no loss of data. The worst it could do is encourage producers not to make the materials we pirate, but hey, just look at the world - the population, culture, art, social community the production of any artworks will never decrease.

        "if I couldn't get the torrent and my only option was to sign up for foxtel - then I wouldn't watch the series"

        I'm in the same boat, and it's mostly a result of Foxtel's intentionally all-or-nothing packaging. For example I would happly pay for a Foxtel subscription if I could only get the sports channels that show the NRL and tennis. Last time I checked I would have to pay at least $550/yr for even the 'bare minimum' package that includes very little of interest to me, then get a sports package on top of that. Given the choice of paying upwards of $800 a year to watch a handful of games that I can go watch at the pub for free, of course I'm going to give it a miss.

        Now if they made it possible to get a genuinely "essentials"-only subscription, I might sign up for an extra channel or two if they aired a series I enjoyed like Breaking Bad. That's clearly not a favourable thing to offer from Foxtel's perspective, so downloading it is.

          In NRL's defence, they now have an App that can do that

      I'll be completely honest; I pirate, and I don't have any problem with it - I certainly don't see it as immoral or unethical. And yet, for the life of me I can't figure out why I'm not bothered by the theft aspect. I honestly can't justify it. Maybe it's all the years of free to air TV that makes me feel that TV shows are 'common property'. I know they're not, but paying for a DVD of the show just seems like a rip off (even though I feel that paying is the right thing to do).

      Having said that, I do watch a lot of Hulu (I'm in Aus - google 'hola unblocker'). My 'ideal world' solution would be to have a shows on demand service like Hulu, with two options - watch for free with advertising, or pay a subscription or pay-per show payment system to watch without ads. Simple.

        You don't feel guilty about the 'theft aspect,' because it isn't theft.

          I don't really want to get in to the whole 'is it theft or not' debate, but I do believe the show's creators should be compensated, be it from the consumer or the advertiser.

        I have a hard time buying things I know are going to sit around and do nothing. If I go out and buy a box set of something, I know its going to be watched once and sit around forever. When I am at my computer and have my list of movies or tv series, I find easier to just start playing something rather than choosing and being stuck with that choice. It sounds really lazy, but being able to just swap and choose what I want makes my decision soo much easier.

      I do it because it's the easiest for me. I don't care about price, if each episode was a few dollars I would pay it.

      It's just the easiest way for me to access it on a reliable and consistent basis at the same time it goes to air elsewhere. That's all. No locked in ecosystems, readily available and no stuffing around with overseas accounts to get around geoblocks.

      Last edited 01/10/13 1:59 pm

      another reason why people pirate is because their friends are, and because we all love talking about our favourite show, they want to be up to date with each other. I dont want to talk about my theories as to what will happen in a show when one of my friends hasn't seen it, thats entering spoiler territory.
      Its a poor excuse, but why should I wait because I live in Australia, and also have to pay a ridiculous price just to see a show some can see at a better deal

      Pirating is the one activity that has made Australian TV networks lift their game.
      When VCRs and DVD players became more prevalent, the networks did nothing to broadcast movies sooner after their release date. Foxtel's introduction in 1995 didn't really make much of a difference either.

      In the last 12 months, you're now seeing FTA and pay TV networks broadcasting within hours of the US. ABC's iView and Ten's new service are giving Australian viewers new & fresh content at the same time as our overseas viewers, and there is a proven decrease in piracy when these measures are taken.

      Personally? I download shows from the states because a) I don't want to pay $864 a year when 95% of Foxtel's content is shite, and b) because I want to watch the show in the 1080p 5.1 format that was originally intended.

      It's simple...

      The producers make the show, I want to watch the show, I like the show and am willing to pay for it, the producers deserve to be compensated...
      the forced upon us middle-men such as Foxtell can go "insert adjective" themselves.

      I watch the show, If I like the show I buy the DVDs and merchandise.

        I agree. I downloaded or got Breaking Bad from people at work so I could watch the eps the same night as everyone else around me..... but I WILL be watching them ALL again when they come out on Blu Ray. This is a $100-$300 purchase I am willing to make.

        I believe the actors, writers, producers, etc have done amazingly and I would like to support THEM by buying the BluRays when they come out. I understand they won't see all my money, but it's better than paying Foxtel so I can watch ads and Kardashian related shows.

        I have read every post above this comment I'm posting and agree with most of the excuses and reasons people download. We can't help that the Uploaders put more love into what we download. Great quality, cut out ads, etc. This is what you should be getting when you pay Foxtel $500-$1000 a year.

        I had Foxtel in the 90's. I don't remember it having ads. Now you pay even more for it and there's bloody ads. GET FARKED MATE.

          Is anyone else able to confirm this? I swear when I used to watch Foxtel back in the day the only things I saw were for the shows on the channel (or other channels), not any ads. Cancelled my Foxtel sub when Foxtel Go came out and wanted to give me less for more, Netflix + VPN = Much better option (plus while it is a grey area, I feel better doing this than downloading)

      I pirated because Foxtel is a steaming pile of crap. I no longer pirate anything except HBO shows because I have Netflix and Hulu via unblock-us which are excellent value for money and easier to use than pirating.

      I either torrent it or I don't watch it. I refuse to give Foxtel any money for their privatised free to air feed. Especially after they some how deducted money from my bank account without my permission, and I have never had any services with them.

      I do it because i don't want to wait, and i don't really want to watch it on a TV. I do it because i'd rather watch it while doing work. I have foxtel, I could watch it on foxtel, i sometimes do watch it on both. But its much easier to watch it on my computer than on my TV. First world problems, right?

      Last edited 02/10/13 4:06 am

      Heh. Your comment is pretty amusing, in that you genuinely believe that the 'truly pathetic excuses rolled out' aren't actually sincere. You want people to 'own up' to what YOU feel is the true reason, even when they actually TELL you the true reason. You just don't want to believe it.

      There's a psychological term for that inability to accept that others think and feel differently, but I forget what it is. Something related to solipsism. Projection, maybe?

    If i could get a DRM free copy instead of the locked down iTunes version i would. Until then ill just buy the Blurays.

      So buy it from iTunes then download the WEB-DL. Same content minus the DRM. :-)

    Would it be possible to watch BB on Hulu or AMC if you lived in america or used HOLA? does everyone outside US actually have to DL torrents? I have no doubt several thousand would just stream it somewhat legally from AMC directly? just lack of knowledge that stops them from doing this I think...
    http://www.amctv.com/full-episodes/breaking-bad

      It's on Netflix in the UK as soon as it airs in the states =/

    Look back at the Australia history, it's right there... they were thieves and got kicked out of mother England.

      As opposed to living in a country of inbred elitists who chose to invade and oppress multiple countries and civilizations around the planet to expand the Glorious British Empire and satisfy their greed for riches and power?? Sounds like a fair swap to me... ;)

        A few random thoughts for you the Fred,

        - Many convicts were sent to Australia for a crime as trivial eg. stealing a loaf of bread because they were starving and couldn't find work ... bastards!
        - I'm assuming "Convicts Down Under" is either a troll, or a copyright shill. Trolls should not be fed. Copyright shills are in the business of suggesting that their customers (eg. those that sometimes pay/sometimes pirate) should be arrested and thrown in prison ... it's a clever technique to encourage you to like them. The psychology *might* be likened to Stockholm Syndrome
        - Big businesses make a loss on all movies. For example, ask Peter Jackson about Lord of the Rings.
        http://www.omg-facts.com/Celebs/Despite-The-Lord-Of-The-Rings-Being-The/52252

        So, i'm sorry the Fred - you are misinformed. Just accept what "Convicts Down Under" said ;)

          I'm sorry, but linking to one film in which the loss is chalked up to dodgy business practices - and the fact that the loss was a surprise - does not mean "big businesses make a loss on all movies". That's a bit of a leap there.

          Studios do make profits. They wouldn't exist otherwise.

        Actually the sentence of "Transportation" was a pretty good deal. That is why so many petty theives etc were sent to Australia. (btw before the American Revolution they were sent to the American colonies.) The Prisons in England were horrible and overcrowded and were used for the real filth. Compared to them, living in the colonies was actually like a minimum security prison.
        Transportation was usually for a relatively short term (compared to sentencing at the time) and then people were free to pursue life in a new place full of opportunties. There are many very successful people in Australia's history who started as convicts.
        Sure, life was hard as a convict, but it was a walk in the park compared to either execution or being locked into an English prison.

      The early ones yes, however many wealthy families from Europe (including Britain) also migrated down to Australia, after all the weather is substantially warmer.
      I live on acreage along a quite road with a view of the blue mountains.
      It was only the early ships and preliminary settlers that were convicts used to forge the way for the true settlers. I'm sick of this perception that Australians are all descended from riff raff.
      Some of us have strong family ties to Europe, please keep a civil tongue.

    Time zone can also play a part, if the 12 hour window fitted neatly around when most Australians torrent their stuff then that could have skewed the results, anything less than a 24 hour sample is a joke. ...whoops, that's basically what you said in the article.

    Last edited 01/10/13 3:48 pm

    Out of fear of spoilers, I wasn't on Steam, I wasn't on Skype, I wasn't even using the internet. Playing good old Warcraft 2.
    Nothing was going to spoil Breaking Bad for me. Nothing.

    (is why I downloaded it instead of legal methods)

    Last edited 01/10/13 4:10 pm

    I happily and unashamedly pirated it. I will also happily spend over $200 on the deluxe box set because the show does deserve my money, just not through the broken business model that is pay TV. I've always said there should be an option for those who are loyal to an established show to pre-pay for a season's physical copy and receive free HD copies through the shows season arc, then receive the physical copy later. I'm happy to pay for quality because quality deserves money in order for a growth in quality to occur.

    People have said this already but here's my reasons:

    It's quicker than any other distribution method in Australia
    It's easy to do
    It's free
    It's DRM free if you want to share it

    Until they fix things up and we can have a proper Netflix/HULU type service here I'm pretty sure this will continue to happen. Of course you can get onto the US but most people aren't clued into that. The lemmings at harvey norman/dick smith need to be selling easy/affordable/quick solutions to customers to really get the ball rolling.

    Spotify is a prime example. Everyone I know had 500gb's of music... now it's pretty much pointless because their service is easier and totally cost effective.

    Last edited 02/10/13 11:51 am

    well i torrent TV.
    I also pay for TV and i also record tv and skip the ads.

    I actually don't see any real difference between torrenting a TV show (with ads removed) and recording a TV show and skiping the ads.
    either way the primary source of the shows income doesn't affect me in real terms (though the tv network would likely still count me as a legitimate view)
    I would like a simple to use service that has good quality video at a reasonable price.

    For the official record I have never at any stage pirated anything ever.. Shame on all of you criminal types. /troll

    Last edited 02/10/13 6:01 pm

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