Last Sunday, 9.5 million people in the UK watched the season four premiere of Downton Abbey. It was the show’s largest opening audience and accounted for a 39.7 share of the 9pm–to–10:30pm Sunday time slot, which Entertainment Weekly pointed out is, as a percentage, twice as large as the American audience that watches Sunday night football.
Us sorry schmucks in the grand old U.S. of A. will have to wait until January to catch up with the goings-on of the Crawley family on PBS.
If that statement just caused you to let out a forlorn but accepting sigh and offer a quick prayer for Lady Mary’s distant happiness, then you and I are very different people. Because there is absolutely no way that I’m waiting a whole four months — almost twice the length of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphrey’s marriage — to get my fix of Downton.
There are two distinct types of television watchers: those law-abiding types who politely wait for proper air times — and those who laugh in the face of (cruel!) international broadcast agreements, searching the internet for illegal streaming and torrent sites, willing to sacrifice HD quality visuals to be up to date (and avoid having spoiled those delicious curveballs that series creator Julian Fellowes is known for throwing).
Heck, The Rolling Stones have even been known for finishing rehearsals early to watch Downton Abbey. You know that if Mick were touring stateside, a roadie somewhere would be finding working links on any number of sites that are (all too) easily accessible.
Think piece after think piece has been written about the ethical implications of watching Downton early — and PBS’s rationale for the months-late airing of what has become its highest-rated drama of all time.
But to Salon’s question “Is it OK to steal Downton Abbey?” I — and to be honest, most of my scruples-free, tech-savvy, millennial friends — answer with a resounding, “Well, how else am I supposed to watch?”
I don’t think that the television broadcast is dead, but in a 2012 study, nearly one-third of millennials said that they didn’t think that they needed TVs. In July, RapidTVNews reported that 20 percent of Netflix users cancelled their TV service.
While that seems steep, it does shed light on the ethos of the binge-watching generation of television viewers who consumed Orange is the New Black in one weekend to get over a breakup (or hangover).
I, myself, even sustained a Breaking Bad-related injury after a particularly shocking moment during last week’s episode caused my legs to convulse, sending my laptop computer catapulting from my bent knees — I was laying down in bed — onto the bridge of my nose. It left a mark.
And though I’m willing to acknowledge the negative implications of watching Downton Abbey in this manner — which is to say, illegally — all I can remember is a day during summer camp, reading the latest edition of Harry Potter by some idyllic lake or tree when some soulless muggle whose parents pre-ordered the UK edition sinisterly skipped over to reveal a cataclysmic plot point.
Never again, I told myself.