HBO's mythical drama "Game of Thrones" is known and loved for many things: Awe-inspiring sets, addictive and suspenseful plot lines, gruesome deaths, and how about them dragons?
Now, the blockbuster HBO show has garnered some attention for its pirates — well, piracy, to be precise.
Given the show's incredible popularity, it should come as no surprise that "Game of Thrones" set a record for modern-day piracy after its Sunday night premiere, with viewers around the world compulsively scrambling to watch season 3's first episode.
A few hours after the first torrent of the show was uploaded, the OpenBitTorrent tracker reported that 163,088 people where sharing one single torrent. Of those, 110,303 were sharing a complete copy of that particular torrent, while 52,786 were still downloading.
Counting all the different releases, it’s currently estimated that the latest "Game of Thrones" episode has been downloaded over a million times — with that number still on the rise.
The fact that the previous record for the largest BitTorrent swarm was credited to the 2008 season premiere of the TV show “Heroes” with 144,663 downloads makes the "Game of Thrones" stats truly staggering.
The heavy demand for the premiere episode is no surprise, given that TorrentFreak cites "Game of Thrones" as the most pirated show of 2012. According to its estimate, 4.3 million people downloaded the season finale last year.
So who are these people, and why are they pirating Game of Thrones?
One plausible explanation for the high number of downloads is the fact that outside the United States, "Game of Thrones" fans are often forced to wait a week or more before they can see the latest episode. And while HBO is currently trying to close those release gaps, for some die-hard fans a delay of even just a few hours is simply too much to bear.
Programming delays aren't the only thing to blame for the high piracy rates, however.
Fans who might otherwise be willing to cough up that 99 cents for a pay-per-episode purchase of the new season do not have the opportunity to do so.
According to Forbes' Andy Greenburg, “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.”
Thus, the new "Game of Thrones" episodes are available only to HBO subscribers — meaning that fans who want aboveboard access to the show must invest in the whole HBO package.
HBO programming president Michael Lombardo told Entertainment Weekly recently that the network sees the piracy of "Game of Thrones" as a sign of success more than a problem.
"I probably shouldn't be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts," Lombardo said ahead of the season 3 premier. "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."
Lombardo continued, "You do kind of think, God, if we just had a little bit of that [money lost to piracy], we could have had that extra scene with the dragons."
So the moral of the story seems to be that the next time you are thinking about illegally downloading your favorite TV show — stop and think of the dragons.