Hannibal was too young to die. And yet, after just three seasons and 39 episodes, NBC’s critically adored psychological thriller was unceremoniously placed on the slab last summer. The show’s executive producer Martha De Laurentiis has now had half a year to perform the post mortem, and she believes that she has determined the cause of death: hemorrhaging of legitimate viewers by means of online piracy.
“When NBC decided not to renew Hannibal for a fourth season … it wasn’t much of a leap to connect its fate with the fact that the show was ranked as the fifth-most illegally downloaded show in 2013,” wrote in an op-ed for The Hill. “When nearly one-third of the audience for Hannibal is coming from pirated sites — despite the fact that a legitimate download for each episode was available the following day — you don’t have to know calculus to do the math. If a show is stolen, it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to fairly compensate a crew and keep a series in production.”
The editorial was published earlier this week, as De Laurentiis was on Capitol Hill to speak at a Meet the Producers event and “illustrate how piracy undermines the entire creative community.” Her assessment of Hannibal’s fate may very well be correct, but the issue of online piracy remains controversial—and confounding. There’s no way to know for certain that the gory, highbrow network series would have survived to see another season, even if it wasn’t such a popular target for illegal downloads. (It’s worth noting that HBO’s Game Of Thrones continues to break records for online piracy, and it continues to outlive most of its main characters. Granted, HBO makes its money through subscriptions as opposed to advertisements, so that may factor into its success.)