“Game of Thrones” fans can be, well, fanatical – just not about paying for the content they crave.
Instead of subscribing to HBO, many viewers are scanning pirate torrent sites for the highest quality download, or catching the latest episode using their ex-boyfriend’s uncle’s HBO Go password.
The HBO hit show "Game of Thrones" currently holds the title for most pirated show of all time, consistently breaking records set by previous episodes of the show. Season 5 is already living up to that reputation. Only two episodes into its 5th season, “Game of Thrones” has set a new piracy record.
The premiere episode “The Wars to Come” was illegally downloaded 13 million times, more than any other single episode of the show, which has been breaking piracy records since Season 1. According to TorrentFreak, this is significantly more than the number of illegal downloads for the premiere and finale of Season 4 combined.
This is all following the leak of the first four episodes of Season 5 earlier this month, prior to the season premiere. The first four episodes and the documentary “A Day In The Life,” which was also leaked, already have a combined 32 million views. However, according to data from the post-broadcast torrent, most of the downloads did not come from these leaked copies, but from higher quality versions ripped from the broadcast itself.
"Basically, we've been dealing with this issue for years with HBO," Jeff Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner, said of the show’s rampant piracy. "Our experience is, it all leads to more penetration, more paying subs, more health for HBO, less reliance on having to do paid advertising. If you go around the world, I think you're right, Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. Well, you know, that's better than an Emmy."
Typically, those watching “Game of Thrones” illegally fall into two categories. Either they live in a country where the show airs weeks or even months after it airs in the US and want to avoid spoilers, or they do not want to subscribe to cable in order to watch one show.
However, HBO has all but eliminated both of theses excuses and pirating has only increased.
HBO made a pointed effort to schedule Season 5 episodes to air at the same time in over 170 countries to cut down on fans watching the show illegally simply because it hadn’t been broadcast in their country yet.
To make episodes available online in a timely fashion for the cable-less generation, HBO rolled out its new streaming service, HBO Now, just in time for the Season 5 “Game of Thrones” premiere. Unlike its other streaming service, HBO Go, HBO Now does not require a cable subscription, though currently the service is restricted to owners of Apple devices and Optimum broadband internet subscribers. HBO even offered a free 30-day trial of the streaming service for the month of April, so viewers could have legally tuned in for free, but many simply chose not to.
"In the US alone, nearly one million consumers downloaded episode one, which translates to $44m in unmonetised demand potential if each of these viewers subscribed to HBO Now for the three-month duration of GoT season five," Tru Opti, which analyses data from private and public BitTorrent trackers, said. "Many of these viewers are prime prospects for unbundled services like HBO Now."
The show grosses $60 to $70 million per season, each of which contains 10 episodes. But each episode costs an estimated $6 million to produce, so the lost revenue is a concern for HBO. However, despite the rampant piracy, the show’s ratings are great: 8 million people tuned in legally to watch the Season 5 premiere and piracy rates represented only 8 percent of of views in the US, despite having 10 percent of the 13 million downloads.