Brace yourselves, HBO. The pirates are coming.
With its popularity swelling and no easy way to watch for viewers without cable, HBO’s hit series “Game of Thrones” is inspiring massive levels of piracy, according to numbers from the BitTorrent-tracking and analysis firm Big Champagne. By the firm’s rough estimate, the second season of the show has been downloaded more than 25 million times from public torrent trackers since it began in early April, and its piracy hit a new peak following April 30th’s episode, with more than 2.5 million downloads in a day.
“It certainly appears to be the most pirated show of the year,” says John Robinson, a senior media analyst with Big Champagne. He says it’s too early to measure definitively, but the company’s data so far as well as the popularity rankings on download site the Pirate Bay point to “Game of Thrones” as filesharers’ favorite show of 2012. “The fact that it’s consistently at the top of the Pirate Bay’s top one hundred TV show chart seems like a pretty in-your-face leading indicator of the huge volume at which this is being shared.”
According to the BitTorrent-focused blog and measurement site Torrentfreak, the first season of “Game of Thrones” was the second-most pirated show of 2011 behind the sixth season of Showtime’s “Dexter.”
But Big Champagne’s numbers show that downloads of the second season of “Game of Thrones” so far consistently top “Dexter”‘s piracy numbers from the same point in its season last year. (See chart above left.)
It’s worth noting that BitTorrent is just one way that shows are pirated online–I was able to find streaming episodes of Game of Thrones on sites like free-tv-video-online.me and zzstream.com after just a few Google searches. But those streaming options are even tougher to track and measure than BitTorrent.
While “Game of Thrones”‘ filesharing rates are probably driven in part by its appeal to the young, geeky male demographic that’s most prone to using torrent sites, HBO hasn’t helped the problem by making the show tough to watch online for the young and cable-less. The show isn’t available through Hulu or Netflix, iTunes offers only Season 1, and using HBO’s own streaming site HBO Go requires a cable subscription. (The situation was captured in the widely read comic strip The Oatmeal, in which the author attempts the rage-inducing process of trying to watch “Game of Thrones” online before giving up and downloading it from a sleazy porn-ad covered torrent site.)
“This is absolutely a reaction to the show’s not being available elsewhere online,” says Big Champagne’s Robinson. “It’s a very tricky game trying to create this kind of scarcity.”
HBO Has Only Itself To Blame For Record 'Game Of Thrones' Piracy
HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ is on its way to becoming the number one pirated show in America. Of course, they have only themselves to blame for this.
Andy Greenberg has some troubling numbers on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Turns out the show is not only really popular with HBO subscribers, it’s also really popular with pirates who are well on their way to making this the most-pirated show ever.
According to Greenberg, “the second season of the show has been downloaded more than 25 million times from public torrent trackers since it began in early April, and its piracy hit a new peak following April 30th’s episode, with more than 2.5 million downloads in a day.”
Meanwhile, season one of the show was the second-most-pirated season of all time, right behind the sixth season of Dexter.
Now, it’s important to note the reason for all this piracy: lack of access to the show for people who can’t afford, or choose not to purchase, a cable-TV subscription.
“HBO hasn’t helped the problem by making the show tough to watch online for the young and cable-less,” notes Greenberg. “The show isn’t available through Hulu or Netflix, iTunes offers only Season 1, and using HBO’s own streaming site HBO Go requires a cable subscription.”
For the millions of Americans who don’t subscribe to HBO, or who may not even watch shows on a television, this means there is no legal way to watch Game of Thrones. If you only watch TV on your laptop, there’s no way you’re going to pay $50/month for cable and another $15/month for HBO.
For people like me who wish HBO would sever ties with cable television and offer its own streaming service that didn’t require a cable subscription, that doesn’t look at all likely. HBO GO will remain available only to cable television subscribers rather than as a stand-alone service. HBO co-president Eric Kessler has said he thinks the move away from traditional television to an internet-based model is just a fad that will pass – a temporary phenomenon.
But HBO is missing out on a huge potential audience by limiting themselves to cable TV subscribers. I don’t blame the company for keeping their shows off of Hulu or Netflix, but offering HBO GO as a stand-alone service could put a serious dent in these piracy numbers, and bring in a lot more legitimate viewers to shows like Game of Thrones.
Of course, on the one hand I hate to see a show that I love getting pirated. I want the show to succeed, and for it to do that it needs to prove that it draws a large audience. But HBO has only themselves to blame at this point. Cord-cutting is not a fad. It’s a trend. Kessler may talk tough when he says that cord-cutters will never see HBO shows, but unless he can take on the torrents single-handedly, then these are just words.
This underscores the larger problem with how so many companies in the entertainment industry think about piracy. Instead of thinking about the ways lack of access to media creates opportunity for piracy, and how increasing the access to products could help stave off illegal downloads, too often people want to take legal measures or implement digital protection on their products. These “fixes” always have easy work-arounds.
Meanwhile, the millions of pirated Game of Thrones episodes show that it’s not difficult at all for non-subscribers to enjoy the show. I’m willing to bet that a stand-alone HBO GO service would largely fix this problem, though nothing will stop piracy altogether.
P.S. I personally don’t condone piracy, but I think it’s very important to see why people do it in the first place. We subscribe to cable-TV for only a few months of the year – just so we can watch Game of Thrones. But I would happily pay more for a stand-alone HBO GO service year round than the $15 (I think) it costs to tack on HBO to our cable. This would net HBO even more revenue over the course of a year. Quite a bit more, actually.
How do you watch Game of Thrones?
I hope this poll works...
Sources 1, 2