‘Walking Dead’ Midseason Premiere Breaks Piracy Record for Zombie Series

Episode pirated about 1.29 million times within 19 hours of airing Sunday on AMC

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Pirates gorged on “The Walking Dead” midseason premiere episode — setting a new record for illicit downloads of the zombie thriller within 24 hours of its TV debut.

About 1.29 million individual Internet addresses worldwide had downloaded the episode within 20 hours after airing, according to piracy-tracking firm Excipio. That puts it well ahead of the series’ previous high-water mark on this front, the season five premiere, which was feasted on by 1.27 million pirates in the first 24 hours. The latest “Walking Dead” episode was discovered on torrent services within 20 minutes after it finished airing on AMC in the U.S. (at 10 p.m. ET Sunday).

Still, “Walking Dead” will likely continue to trail the king of pirated TV shows. That crown should remain on the head of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which last year saw its season four premiere and finale register 1.86 million and 1.46 million downloaders, respectively, in the first 24 hours.

The all-time high piracy of “Walking Dead” underscores the franchise’s global appeal — but it’s also unwelcome news for Fox International Channels, which distributes the show in more than 125 markets within 24 hours of its U.S. debut in a strategy to curb piracy.

Meanwhile, pirates also swarmed over “Better Call Saul,” the “Breaking Bad” prequel that debuted on AMC before “Dead.” “Saul” registered 527,093 unique Internet addresses that had downloaded the first episode within the same time period. Netflix acquired rights to “Better Call Saul” to stream episodes in European and Latin American markets after they air on AMC; Netflix has rights to offer “Saul” to U.S. and Canada subs one to two weeks before the premiere of season two on AMC.

In U.S., TV ratings for Sunday’s “Walking Dead” episode were strong — averaging an 8.0 rating in adults 18-49 (about 10.1 million) and 15.6 million viewers overall — although that was the series’ third-best showing. Thanks to its “Breaking Bad” credentials, “Better Call Saul” delivered a record audience in the demo for a cable-series premiere, with 6.9 million overall viewers and 4.4 million among adults 18-49, according to Nielsen.