Game of Thrones has been setting ratings records for HBO this season, so it’s probably no surprise that the fantasy hit is once again settings records for illegal downloading too. According to piracy-monitoring blog TorrentFreak, the season 4 Thrones finale “The Children” had roughly 1.5 million downloads within just the first 12 hours after the finale aired on the premium cable network, with more than 250,000 users sharing the same file (a record-breaking “swarm” of users). The site estimates that total number of downloads will exceed 7.5 million in the days to come.
On HBO, the episode delivered 9.3 million viewers its first night, and is expected to eventually surpass the show’s current season average across all platforms (including the network’s streaming player) of 18.6 million viewers. Earlier this season, Thrones topped The Sopranos to officially rank as the network’s most-watched series of all time, while also ranking as the show’s most illegally downloaded season as well.
HBO tends to view piracy from a somewhat grudgingly pragmatic standpoint. The premium network officially condemns theft, yet also recognizes that Thrones is an enormous hit, that content leakage is tough to prevent and that the show’s popularity among pirates is inevitable (countries such as Australia, where viewers don’t receive new episodes via pay cable in a timely manner, tend to be among the biggest piracy territories). HBO’s programming president Michael Lombardo last year told EW that the downloading was a “compliment of sorts,” noting, “the demand is there. And it certainly didn’t negatively impact the DVD sales. [Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network.”
This year, HBO added this statement: “There are numerous anti-theft tools we utilize and we have significantly shrunk the international distribution window for original programming to practically correspond with the US premiere. Unfortunately, with popularity comes piracy. Good news is Game of Thrones continues to grow significantly and tens of millions are watching the series legally around the world.” Jeff Bewkes, CEO of HBO’s parent company Time Warner, once claimed that piracy resulted in more HBO subscriptions. “Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. That’s better than an Emmy.”