It’s been about a week since Fox instituted an eight-day waiting period for users who are not paying subscribers to either Hulu Plus or the Dish Network before they are allowed to stream new episodes of TV shows. Under the new authentication program, only those willing to pay up can watch new episodes the day after it airs. Everybody else has to wait.

Not all viewers have the patience, it turns out. In the absence of a free, immediately-available streaming option, many of them are turning to piracy, according to an informal study performed by TorrentFreak.

The digital piracy news site tracked two Fox shows for five days after the authentication program began and found that the number of illegal downloads of new episodes increased substantially. Downloads of the most recent episode of Hell’s Kitchen increased by 114% and Master Chef saw a 189% increase in downloads.

While it’s a pretty small sample of data, the results shouldn’t come as a shock. For years, people have used peer-to-peer file-sharing networks to find and download music, television shows, movies and other content. As on-demand streaming services like Hulu and Netflix have risen to prominence, the drive for consumers to acquire content through less legal means has decreased. Meanwhile, a growing number of Americans have come to rely on the Internet to stream their favorite television shows, even if it means waiting until the morning after the show originally aired.

That consumer demand still exists, even if the networks have begun to decide to scale back their online offerings in the hopes of encouraging more people to view the original broadcasts and to make the most out of traditional, and frankly more lucrative, content distribution relationships.

If viewers want to see the most recent episode of Master Chef, they’re going to see it. As more of them shift to watching TV online, they become conditioned to finding content there. If it’s not readily available on legal streaming services, they’ll find it elsewhere.

That could be through a file-sharing service like BitTorrent or simply by uploading episodes to YouTube, where grateful fellow fans thank one another for making the content available.

“There is no doubt that the Hulu delay is not in the best interests of TV-viewers, ” writes TorrentFreak. “Although it might be a good business decision in the short term, one has to doubt whether driving people to ‘pirated’ content is a wise choice. To many viewers it is clearly a step backward.”

For their part, networks are hoping to make the most out of traditional arrangements since the Web has not yet offered a clear-cut, lucrative way to monetize this type of content.

john paul titlow