There’s so much current programming that’s available for free from online pirates that it “could put the whole [pay TV] ecosystem at risk,” Macquarie Equities Research’s Tim Nollen warns today. His report follows what he says was a “quick and dirty Google search” to see what he could find. To his surprise “practically everything that’s popular on TV can be found instantly” from torrent sites such as The Pirate Bay and cyberlockers listed in Letmewatchthis.com. For example, he found episodes of FX’s Justified, TNT’s Dallas, AMC’s The Walking Dead, History’s Vikings, and CBS’ The Big Bang Theory less than three hours after they aired. He also was surprised by how slick some of these sites have become. “In terms of usability, it’s difficult to tell the difference between iTunes or Netflix and the smoothest-looking illegitimate sites.” About 70% of U.S. homes have broadband service, giving them the ability to download an hourlong show in about 42 seconds — and lots of people already use that power to watch shows for free. Pirate Bay is more popular among U.S. Internet users than sites from The Washington Post, Best Buy, and dating service Match.com.

Nollen fears that what’s now just an annoyance for pay TV is about to become a big problem. The music industry saw that piracy “reached a tipping point” when it became “truely convenient to acquire and manage a large catalog of songs.” Now, many young people could “ditch pay TV for pirated content” when they set out on their own. If they can borrow a TV Everywhere password from parents or a friend, then it becomes even easier to watch current shows without paying. That also could damage streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon “where the studios currently derive the majority of their digital home video revenues.”