'Game of Thrones' Most Pirated Show of 2012

GAME OF THRONES (2010-present)

George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books could never been adapted for the movies, but its dense fantasy is perfect for the small screen. Executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have managed to make Westeros a real place and its sprawling cast of characters painfully human.

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 drama 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' comedy 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 basic cable show. Rounding out the top 10 are 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 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 were 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 nearly a fifth of the total.

The next four spots all are 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 list.

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