Breaking Bad Creator: ‘Piracy Has Helped the Show…’

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Welcome to the parallel universe of television, where everything is just happening a little later.  And, major studios, producers, and everyone down to the grips are grappling with the question of whether their business is going away.

Enter Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, who recently told the BBC that massive, record-setting levels of piracy on Breaking Bad have helped to raise awareness and draw new audiences.   “It’s helped the show gain popularity and brand awareness,” Gilligan said.

“It has led to a lot of people watching the series who otherwise would not have.”

The question, being furiously debated, is the actual cost of ‘awareness’ and greater popularity.

“The downside is a lot of folks who worked on the show would have made more money, myself included, if all those downloads had been legal.”

The final episode of Breaking Bad was downloading through BitTorrent more than half-a-million times in the first 12 hours alone, according to Torrentfreak.  In many cases, users had easy access to Netflix, available for $7.99 a month.


38 Responses

  1. jw

    You’re lopping together Netflix & Bit Torrent as if watching Netflix isn’t legal or beneficial to “the folks who worked on the show.” No, it’s not as beneficial as if those viewers had watched the show live, but those viewers were watching episodes years after the air date. It’s not a 1:1 comparison.

    Sure, if all of those downloads had been legal, everyone would’ve made more money. Duh. But that perfect world doesn’t exist. We all know that all of those downloaders wouldn’t have otherwise made time to catch the show at it’s airtime, paid for a cable package that includes AMC, or downloaded the shows from iTunes/Amazon. And yet many viewers who wouldn’t have bought into the show sight unseen did become legitimate viewers after pirating the show.

    This article seems to compare “reality with piracy” to a perfect world where consumption is unaffected by paywalls (i.e. viewers are boosted to unrealistic numbers by free access). When the real comparison ought to be “reality with piracy” versus “reality without piracy,” and it’s clear that piracy made the bottom line bigger & blacker in this one specific case.

    Your block quote about “if all those downloads had been legal” is more or less hypothetical, & sheds very little light on the actual situation.

    As a note, I’m not necessarily trying to justify piracy, just trying to demystify the situation. Just like artists, some shows benefit from piracy, others are very much harmed by it.

    • SOTA

      JW, I believe what he is referring to is more that piracy in the music world had similar reactions originally. There were big groups advocating that piracy actually helped out album sales for them, and then everyone believed that since piracy was helping more people stopped downloading legally. Also I think the Netflix comment is more geared toward the fact that people had legal means of streaming, but still used bit torrent instead. I took something very different away from this article in particular.

      • jw

        SOTA – Rereading, I think you’re very right about the Netflix comment (my apologies, Paul).

        I think piracy has an equalizing effect… niche programs get a lift & blockbuster programs are probably take a hit. I think that’s consistent with what we see in music. However, music piracy is dropping & yet sales continue to decline. To me, this points to bigger factors influencing sales. There seems to be an undercurrent to this story that suggests that Gilligan’s comments bely the forthcoming affects of piracy on the tv industry, & yet I don’t think that piracy can be specifically blamed for the recorded music industry’s collapse.

        I maintain that the “perfect world” scenarios are just distracting… I don’t think it’s questionable that in this particular case piracy made the show more money, & I think that there’s specific marketing-related & enforcement-related things that can be learned from these types of stories.

        • snfubar

          JW there is no evidence to suggest that piracy is in decline, not in the US at least. Also, every illegally distributed pirate copy of a film or music is monetized in some way – MOSTLY – this via Ad Funded Piracy, or via shady payment processors. Mostly, it’s via the advertising supported sites like ISOHUNT who are being shuttered now.


          Which is to say, there are no “lost sales” as every illegal download is generating revenue.

          • jw

            Piracy on the whole may not be on the decline, but music piracy specifically seems to be. I dunno how reliable the NPD report from early this year is, but it’s also just my personal experience. Stuff isn’t as readily available as it once was, & things don’t leak as reliably as they once did.

            I think it’s a good point that in many cases these “lost sales” are being monetized by someone (most certainly not all cases, however), but that money would never land in show creators’ pockets unless they decided to stream the show for free, which would seemingly undercut other distribution platforms. More pertinently, I’m not sure they could even do that under AMC’s contracts with television service providers.

          • Anonymous

            Music piracy is not on the decline, it is still growing…..

          • jw

            That doesn’t say anything about music piracy specifically increasing.

            However, I’ll qualify my statement… music piracy seems to be on the decline in the US (and certainly in many Scandinavian countries, as well as elsewhere). Music piracy is still rampant in China, and likely elsewhere in Asia. To my point, here’s a Forbes article on the NPD study… Study Finds That Streaming And Spyware Are Killing Music Piracy. Personally, I suspect that the NPD claims are inflated, but I do think that music piracy specifically seems to be on the decline domestically.

            The interesting statistic from the video is that “users seeking infringing content” increased from 297m to 327m during 2012. I would suspect that has a lot to do with increased internet access in China. Music piracy in Asia has made the continent Spotify’s #1 priority for expansion, but so far no legal service has made any ground. See this International Business News article… Analysis: Why Spotify Should Not Attempt The Chinese Market … Just Yet. Specifically, India is likely impacting those numbers, too.

            Also, piracy statistics related to data can be very misleading… more data doesn’t necessarily mean more infringement. Pirated movie files were once compressed to as little as 200mb. These days the same movie in HD format might be 7gb. 7gb of mp3s could be nearly 100 entire albums, though far less in flac format. Even if total number of total copyright infringements worldwide at some point begins to decline, continued adoption of lossless formats will cause the data statistics to continue to skyrocket for some time.

      • hippydog

        Quote “Also I think the Netflix comment is more geared toward the fact that people had legal means of streaming”

        Thats how I took it too..

        heres an article from the Variety (The TV industry internal zine/news)
        Where he mentions netflix

        Quote Vince Gilligan “Meanwhile, Gilligan has also lauded Netflix for sustaining the show. Netflix offered past seasons of “Breaking Bad,” timed to let subscribers catch up before the next run. “I think Netflix kept us on the air,” he told reporters”

        The problem is people wanted to see the final show NOW, and all the legal versions I think were delayed (I never checked myself as I’m still on season 4)..

        I kinda wonder how many people would have payed for the final show if they had allowed Itunes to sell it without any delay?

    • snfubar

      yeah, but all of those illegally downloads are PAID FOR… they just don’t pay the creators. There is plenty of revenue from the pirated distribution.

      Ad Funded Piracy ensures the internet corporations in the value chain are compensated, it’s just the creators who are not.

      • jw

        What exactly is the point you’re trying to make? People are making money off of piracy, duh. Are you suggesting that a content creator like Gilligan ought to be against the illegitimate distribution of content out of spite, even if the net result is more money in his pocket?


    I came to read the article and figured i’d take a look at the comments here…once again, I see JW. Good lord go away. Uneducated opinions have no place here.

    • jw

      Speaking of my uneducated opinions, Paul… is there a reason my response to Anonymous’ video was deleted?

      • jw

        Nevermind, it reappeared when I posted this. Maybe there’s some caching issue.

    • GGG

      As with any website with a comment section, there’s a handful of people on here that comment very often, myself included. Get used to it or learn how to internet.

    • hippydog

      Quote “once again, I see JW. Good lord go away. ”
      Sounds like someone lost an argument against someone and is now being petty about it..

      • GGG

        I’m guessing it’s yet another 45+ year old with a failed music career that has 200 fans on Facebook and thinks the act of creating music nobody wants entitles him to a 6 figure salary.

  3. hippydog

    A P.S. to my comment above
    Quote “I kinda wonder how many people would have payed for the final show if they had allowed Itunes to sell it without any delay?”

    Piracy is heavily affecting TV and movies also..
    but they have the advantage where there model works a lot better with streaming, as they can WINDOW their releases based on popularity.. and have different levels of pricing..

    which begets a question,
    Can the music industry have releases more like the Movie/TV industry ? is it even possible?

    • GGG

      I think the way our culture consumes music vs tv/film is much kinder to the latter for streaming. Whether it will ever change, I don’t know, but the act of watching something, even in your home, is much more of an event than listening to music. You can go to a concert like you go to the theater, but there’s really no home equivalent that’s a normal thing to do. Plenty of people, many of us I’m sure, can stick on a favorite record and sit there and absorb it while having a nice glass of scotch or something. But most people don’t/can’t. Sitting down to watch a movie with popcorn and your girlfriend is infinitely more appealing to people. This is why streaming like Netflix, etc took off after a quick dip.

      I think it’s very probable due to people listening to music so much, however inactively, that streaming will catch on, but it’s just not the same “event” that watching something is.

  4. FarePlay

    As so well demonstrated by these comments, we have a small group of aggressive, outspoken pro-digital, pseudo revolutionaries who are intent on clouding the conversation and adding to the misguided rationale that piracy is somehow acceptable. And they’ve done such a persuasive job that even successful industry executives are getting themselves caught up in the trip wires.

    What kind of research is Vince Gilligan basing his statements on about piracy actually helping his show? The entertainment industry spends hundreds of millions on lawyers to attempt to resolve this problem. One would think they would spend hundreds of thousands on educating those working in their industry to the nuances of the problem and the subtleties of the conversation.

    • GGG

      Here’s the thing. There are a few different camps when it comes to piracy, despite everyone wanting to generalize everything since critical thinking is too much to ask. Are there people who 100% support piracy and and want to get rid of copyright and think everything should be free and all that shit? Yes, of course. There are also people, such as myself and I think a few others on this site, that don’t actively condone piracy (as much as you want to say we do), but understand the glass-half-full aspect of it.

      For example, you can’t honestly believe piracy to potential sales is a 1 to 1 ratio. This notion is just people lying to themselves. If your record is DLed 10K times, there is absolutely nothing to say you would have sold 10K more if piracy was eradicated. Hell, a la carte single sales probably take away as many former album sales. As much as you hate to admit it, and as much as it sucks people don’t spend $18 on music anymore, piracy and now streaming are legit discovery tools for a ton of people. And again, I’m a broken record in these comments, but this is why I support streaming so much. Because it actually pays SOMETHING compared to piracy. If piracy was wiped clean, you might see some superstars’ numbers go back up, but the indie scene, the “middle-class” musicians, will lose a ton of traction. People who DL or stream anything that gets an 8 or higher on Pitchfork isn’t going to start buying all those.

      • FarePlay

        No one is saying there is a one to one correlation. On the other hand there is no denying that digital theft represents an enormous, unescapable decline in revenue going to artists.

        • GGG

          Many approach or seem to approach the subject like the 1 to 1 ratio should be assume and accepted, or at worst a 90% loss rate.

          And correct, it was/is an enormous loss in revenue. But I think there are many quantifiably positive aspects that have arisen for a large number of artists, specifically those that have careers held up by a demographic of fans that were basically the ones who normalized piracy.

    • jw

      It only appears that way to you because you see everything as black & white.

      What kind of research is he basing his statements on? lol. You don’t think AMC has metrics? Netflix metrics, facebook metrics, twitter metrics, bit torrent metrics… ? I’m pretty sure if ANYONE is qualified to make the comments he’s making, it’s him. Alls I’m saying is, in this specific case, Gilligan is better off for piracy. Of course other content creators are worse off for piracy, that goes without saying. Are you suggesting that Gilligan actually ISN’T better off for piracy? If so, I’d love for you to qualify that comment.

      I’m not a pseudo revolutionary, I’m a realist. And I’m not even suggesting that piracy plays a vital part in promoting a show like Breaking Bad. But I think there’s things that can be learned from this type of data. The bottom line is that users are currently overwhelmed with entertainment choices. It’s not like it used to be, where a show on network tv was a guaranteed success, & a performance on Johnny Carson was career launching. This means that content owners have to pro-actively seek out viewers, which leads to stuff like HBO putting the first episode of this season’s Eastbound & Down up for free on YouTube, something that would’ve been unheard of in years past.

      This is the evolution of an industry, & the people saying, “No piracy, no way, no how, I don’t wanna hear it, everything is black & white” are going to be lost in all of the noise. This isn’t reflective of any desires that I have, it’s just reality. I’m not the moralist here, I’m not the idealist. You are. You are the pseudo revolutionary in this scenario, clearly.

      There are people who say, “OMG, there’s piracy! Let’s stamp it out, quick!” Which is a knee jerk reaction. Or maybe a spiteful reaction. Or a fearful reaction. And then there are more level headed people who say, “Ok, there’s piracy. Is it hurting us or helping us? Oh, it’s helping us? Is there any way that we can funnel that interest into our own channels & maximize our potential revenue? Can we somehow adjust our distribution plan to monetize these users who previously wouldn’t have been monetizable to us directly?” As a business person, that’s how I would approach it. THAT is the nuance & the subtlety of the conversation, FarePlay, to which you are oblivious.

      • FarePlay

        “Are you suggesting that Gilligan actually ISN’T better off for piracy? If so, I’d love for you to qualify that comment.” Actually it is your camp making that claim, so you prove it if you so desire.

        Here’s the reality of what I believe can be accomplished. Black and white, hardly. It is about creating clarity about a behavior that is predicated on denial and rationalization. There are actually a lot of people, even you consistently place yourself in this group, who see the value in supporting artists. Then there are a lot of, for lack of a better word, “fringe people” who haven’t thought it through. If they understood the reality of digital theft in the context of taking money away from someone else, SOME of them might actually pay.

        There are lots of affluent people, who simply think “no harm, no foul” based on the litany of reasons a small group of freehadists spend every day repeating. And idiots like Gillian who let foul statements slip from their mouths like a spittle of saliva. You know the drill and you know how bogus it is.

        Zero tolerance, black and white. Ha. If I can engender the smallest spark of humanity and recognition that some people’s actual work is doing this stuff and get 20 million people who feed off others for their joy and enlightenment to spend $30 a year on the stuff that really makes their world, that’s $600m more a year going to keep the artist eco-system alive.

        And if I can enlighten the lady with her Hermes bag, sitting in the Air France lounge to understand that paying for that e-book is the right thing to do, than I’ve accomplished something of value.

        you do what you do and I’ll do what I do. my goal in life has nothing to do with convincing you about anything.

        Oh, and Vince. He only proves his ignorance about what’s going on. He should know better.

        • GGG

          He proves his ignorance? Funny, but I guess it makes sense that you, random internet guy, know more about how BB’s audience consumed the show than the lowly creator of the show….

          • FarePlay

            The problem with the attack dog mentality and the written word. My final statement has nothing to do with whether Gillian’s statement is factual or not. It is about his lack of understanding in regard to piracy and how his words will be used by others to make a point.

            It doesn’t surprise me that you missed the entire thrust of my statement in your need to appear? I’ll let you fill in that blank.

          • GGG

            I didn’t miss your point. You, as always, and as I pointed out before, are unable to see the big picture; a combination of the good and the bad. The fact he stated piracy gained his show popularity and IMMEDIATELY followed it up with the potential consequence of that shows not only did he not lack the understanding in regard to what he was saying and piracy, but also that he sees that big picture to whatever extent.

          • FarePlay

            So let me see if I get this right. When the pirate proponents quote Vince Gillian they will use his entire quote including the part about people not getting paid. Is that what your saying?

          • GGG

            Probably not. But they also don’t care.

            The only reason I get on people’s cases about being staunchly anti-piracy is because I fully believe that was part of (most, really) the problem with not fixing it for so long and letting it get out of hand. Everything was made out to be so black and white, and maybe for the first couple years it was in reality. But it hasn’t been for over at least a decade now, and the only remotely viable solution gets shit on by half the industry.

            I mean, has anyone added up the entire scope of music to see how it’s fared in the age of piracy? “Music Industry” usually means record sales (which we know has plummeted), sometimes adds in licensing, streaming, etc. What about merch? What about concert attendance? What about touring grosses across the board? Sure people have been spending less on recorded music, but how has the whole scope of consuming music gone?

          • FarePlay

            No the problem was the music industry treated piracy as a legal problem instead of a perception problem. I totally agree with the idea that the industry should have bought Napster and reverse engineered it and the record industry totally screwed itself with the CD and falsely inflating the cost of recorded music for decades.

            But where I totally disagree with is finding alternative revenue streams to replace recorded music sales. That does not work. And that trumps piracy and why I refer to it as a pseudo-revolution.

          • GGG

            Wait, you think finding alternative revenues for recorded music is bad, if it’s still based off recorded music? I understand the hesitation since streaming isn’t going to be a 1-1 replacement financially, but the general idea behind that statement is absolutely ridiculous.

          • FarePlay

            I didn’t say that. What I did say is that alternative streams of revenue have not made up for the loss of revenue from selling pre-recorded music. If you can’t beat me with the facts, do you have to rely on distorting the them?

            I had to laugh about your remark about Gilligan qualifying his statement about piracy. Man you should get a job with Michelle Bachman.

            Took you awhile, what are you guys the tag team from hell?

          • GGG

            I’ve never said they have either, so I’m not distorting anything. Earning any money at this point is better than piracy, so fight to make it better, not fight to shut it down.

            Also, what the fuck are you talking about? His statements are quoted right up top and all I did was point them out.

            And I’m so sorry I didn’t respond sooner. Please forgive me.

        • jw

          What Gilligan said is the truth, FairPay. People can spin it however they’d like. The bottom line is that, because of piracy, there is more money in his pocket. You aren’t denying that. If other shows are losing money to piracy, that’s not on him. It’s not his responsibility to spin the situation in order for the world at large to more easily be moralized according to you or whomever.

          Look, we get it. You’re incredibly self-righteous. You’re on some mission from God, & you hate black people with iPhones & white women with Hermes bags & Kindles, & Gilligan’s bottom line doesn’t factor into your crusade. But you should know that imposing some sort of responsibility on Gilligan to choose some side & censor himself for your cause is kind of fucked up. He’s just a content creator trying to make money off of his content, which is becoming more difficult every day. As far as he’s concerned, whatever works… works.

          And no, I’m not above justifying my stance. When it comes to supporting content creators out of my own pocket, I’m probably in the upper percentile. Whether it’s actually buying music (Little Joy’s self-titled record came in the mail this morning, which sounds delightful on vinyl), subscribing to services like Spotify, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, etc to listen to music & watch music-related content, designing merch and promotional items pro bono for artists I dig, going out to shows on a regular basis or letting artists coming through town crash at my house. I’m as pro-artist as you can possibly get. So when you accuse me of being anything else, the truth of the matter is that you’re missing something. Because you’re wrong. And it’s my opinion, based on observations, that you’re just blinded by some “high minded” moral zealousy. And that kind of thinking isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. You can preach & preach until you’re blue in the face, but if I ILLEGALLY burn a copy of a cd for someone I think might like it & they buy a copy for themselves, or buy a concert ticket or whatever, I’m actually doing more good for the content creator by breaking the law than you are by trying to moralize all of the terrible art-hating sinners you come into contact with each day. That’s REAL WORLD thinking. Get with the program.

          • FarePlay

            I’ve re-read your hate filled screed a couple of times, thinking about how to respond to something so mean spirited. And ultimately I have to thank you. Thank you because I realize now why artists have been so hesitant to speak their truth and be slammed by arrogant shits like you who want to make it personal.

            You don’t want to debate a point of view, you’re a character assassin, like the guy who says “and your music sucks”. How dare you make a judgement call on who am as a human being. You distort the truth and pawn it off as fact.

            You lose because you resort to the lowest common denominator to try and prove your point.

  5. tippysdemise

    A TV show is a very different animal than music. You have to watch it at a very specific time on a specific day. Not everyone can do so. The creator would obviously want people who missed the broadcast to see it, regardless of the means, to hook them into the series.

  6. FarePlay

    Here’s a note from a musician friend. I think it kind of sums up this convoluted conversation.

    “Oh yes of course its always been a shitty business no one denies that but at least musicians were given food and shelter, now they’re left in the desert. And see what you are forgetting is that apart from this game there did exist a very rich variety of niche artists, that may never had even the slightest chance of a TOP anything but yet they were on a small label that did what it could and so they had a career. Not a “on the cover of rolling stone magazine” career, no. But they were enabled to live their lives as musicians doing what they do; which is a luxury. They too were lucky to some extent yes but now they’ve all vanished.”