While speaking to BBC just before the premiere, star of the show, Taraji P. Henson, said the only reason why Empire crossed over to the UK, was because people were streaming it illegally.
“They (UK TV networks) wouldn’t have known the show was that important, or that people wanted to see it, if they weren’t streaming it… You guys were streaming, and I know it’s a bad thing, but when the material is good people will find it… Thank you. Thank you everybody”, she said.
She added that people did not think the show would do well in the UK, hence no move was made for it, but since the people asked for it, they got it.
According to TorrentFreak, the show was being downloaded more than 250,000 times per episode via BitTorrent.
The funny thing is that, while none of the UK Channels caught wind of the show until fans started talking about it, there was a serious bidding war as to who would get the rights. In the end, Channel E4 got the rights.
Source: Shadow and Act