Viewers are increasingly turning to online file-sharing services to get their TV fix, researchers have found.
According to a study due to be presented at the Edinburgh Television Festival tomorrow, illegally downloaded programmes are beginning to replace standard viewing.
Researchers PRs for Music and Big Champagne found that the level of unlawful downloads spiked when users were charged to download TV shows that had previously been free.
"Millions of television viewers now access free, unauthorised versions of favourite shows at least some of the time," said Eric Garland, chief executive of Big Champagne. "This is a socially acceptable form of casual piracy - and it is replacing viewing hours."
American drama Heroes topped the list of illegally downloaded programmes, with 54.6 million people accessing it. Meanwhile, 51.2 million chose to download Lost, and the BBC’s Top Gear continues to be one of the most illegally swapped shows in the US.
Will Page, chief economist at PRs for Music said, “It is important for the film and television industries to understand and learn from the experience of the music business and to look not just at possible lost value, but the opportunities that digital distribution can bring.”