According to estimates by The Hollywood Reporter, Heroes was the most pirated television show of 2009, downloaded 6.58 million times. Other geek friendly programs, like Lost, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and True Blood, also made it into the top ten. Heroes has fallen quite a bit in the ratings since its breakout first season, but topping this list demonstrates the show’s ability to continue to attract viewers in some manner.
For the full top ten plus a look at what this online popularity means for the renewal prospects of Heroes, hit the jump.
1. “Heroes” (NBC)
2. “Lost” (ABC)
3. “Prison Break” (Fox)
4. “Dexter” (Showtime)
5. “House” (Fox)
6. “24” (Fox)
7. “Desperate Housewives” (ABC)
8. “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” (Fox)
9. “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC)
10. “True Blood” (HBO)
The list is somewhat eclectic featuring both hits such as House, Desperate Housewives, and Grey’s Anatomy and shows with much smaller audiences like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Prison Break. The latter two shows are both canceled now, proving that a large online audience will not save a show from low ratings (especially if they choose to pirate it instead of pay for episodes online). The report has a neat little graph that compares average viewers estimated downloads, and only twice is the show more popular online by the given metrics, with Heroes and Dexter. However, Dexter airs on Showtime, which reaches about 22 million households, while Heroes airs on NBC, which reaches just about every home with a TV.
Heroes debuted in a big way in 2006, with the first season averaging about 14 million viewers, thrusting the show into the pop culture lexicon. The current fourth season of Heroes is averaging less than half of that, at about 6 million viewers per episode. That is quite a fall, and disconcerting for NBC as Heroes was once one of the network’s biggest hits. For obvious reasons, NBC has no way to monetize pirated views. So while a large number of downloads may be good for exposure, it does nothing to directly help Heroes financial considerations.
Such a high number of downloads may indicate a significant (and tech savvy) international audience. Overseas fans who can’t wait for the new episode of Heroes air in their home country may turn to the internet to get their fix, in turn boosting the download numbers. Fans who watch the show on their computers abroad don’t help NBC, but a large international audience might benefit Heroes if enough watch the show on their television set.
It should be noted that Heroes is still one of the highest rated scripted shows on NBC in the 18-49 demographic (behind The Office, 30 Rock, and Law and Order: SVU), an age group which advertisers will pay more to reach. That’s more of an indication of how poorly NBC is doing, but the renewal prospects of Heroes are not as bleak as they might look if you just compare viewer totals.
If I were a betting man, I would guess that NBC renews Heroes for a fifth season. The show performs relatively well compared to the rest of NBC’s programming, and I would suggest international/merchandise/DVD sales all help support the bottom line.