The channel saw its lowest ever ratings for the Benedict Cumberbatch drama after a Russian version was posted online
While the fourth seasons of the BBC’s audience-splitting Sherlock saw Benedict Cumberbatch’s sleuth enchant and dismay viewers with its finale on Sunday evening, the game is afoot to figure out just how a Russian-language version of the episode found its way online before its broadcast transmission.
The leaked episode, titled His Final Problem, was posted on online streaming sites the day before the BBC aired the popular show. The pirated episode includes a short continuity announcement revealing the digital file was the one procured by Russia’s state-owned Channel One.
After the leaked episode made the rounds on the Internet, the BBC’s official Sherlock Twitter account asked fans not to access it and not to spoil the plot lines:
The BBC also said it is now conducting an investigation into the data leak.
“BBC Worldwide takes breaches our stringent security protocols very seriously and we have initiated a full investigation into how this leak has occurred,” a statement read.
Responding to the controversy, Channel One released its own statement saying it "has been cooperating with BBC Worldwide from the moment we were alerted to the appearance of the leaked episode and we are doing everything in our power to determine the source of the breach.
"Initial investigations suggest our content system was compromised by an unauthorised external third party," the statement said.
The British press has suggested that the episode leak could potentially be an indication of a deepening culture war between Russia and the western media, with The Daily Telegraph speculating that the BBC World Service’s recent decision to increase its Russian-language content could have angered the Kremlin.
In October last year, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman warned of an eye-for-an-eye retaliation against British banking company NatWest after it attempted to close a number of accounts linked to RT, Russia’s state-sponsored English-language broadcaster.
“Our stance is straightforward: we will stick up for our own,” said Maria Zakharova. “They will get as good as they give.”
The season four finale episode of the Benedict Cumberbatch-starring Sherlock received almost 6m viewers on the BBC, the lowest-ever audience for the BBC drama. It is unclear whether the show will return for a fifth season, with showrunners Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat revealing no plans have been made.