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19 July 2017

‘Game of Thrones’ is still the most pirated show, but there’s a twist this year

There have never been more ways to watch Game of Thrones legally, but that hasn’t stopped the show from continuing to be the most popular TV show for illegal downloads and streams. 

That’s the finding from a report from file sharing news site TorrentFreak, released Monday, which revealed that the show still leads the list of pirated shows. At one point, one day after the show’s Season 7 premiere, over 130,000 people were sharing various torrents of the episode, according to TorrentFreak.

But those are just the hardcore users willing to directly download illegal torrent files of the show. As for those watching illegal streams offered on websites, citing an anonymous source at one major illegal streaming portal, the same report revealed that the portal logged up to 20,000 illegal streams per hour of the show’s premiere as of Monday morning. 

Roughly 10 million U.S. viewers, planned to stream Game of Thrones using illegal means.

And just days before the airing of the show’s return to HBO, Finder.com released a survey that predicted that 5 percent, or roughly 10 million U.S. viewers, planned to stream the show using illegal means. The survey also found that men were more likely to illegally stream the show than women, and the leading states flouting the law to watch the return of dragons and throne-seekers in the survey were New York, Texas, and California (which also happen to be some of the largest states population-wise, so take that data point with a grain of salt). 

As with all surveys, the report didn’t poll the entire U.S., instead it used a sampling of viewers, in this case, 2,245 U.S. adults who were contacted by the global research firm PureProfile commissioned by Finder.com.

The continued popularity of illegal streams is particularly surprising when you consider just how aggressive HBO has been in its attempts to make Game of Thrones available in as many places as possible. 

For relatively small monthly fees (around $15 per month), viewers without an HBO subscription through their cable provider can access the show via HBO Now, Amazon Prime Video, PlayStation Vue, and Sling TV. And, as of July (just in time for the Game of Thrones premiere), Hulu began offering HBO as an a la carte option as well. 

The real kicker is that many of these services offer an initial period of totally free usage. So the indication, given the continued piracy in the face of all these options, is that for a certain sector of “prestige” TV fans, piracy may be less a matter of economics and more about ease of access and habits formed over time. (There are a large number of Reddit pages devoted to illegal Game of Thrones streams which reappear as quickly as they are banned by site administrators.)  

However, there’s good news for the streaming services out there: Most people (94 percent) get their HBO fix legally, according to Finder.com’s survey. Similarly, while TorrentFreak reported a record number of illegal downloads of the show back in 2015, the site found that the illegal sharing of the show has generally leveled off compared to past numbers. 

If you’re HBO, or any of the other streaming giants like Hulu or Netflix, this is fairly good news. But the White Walkers of streaming piracy are always nipping at the edges, so to keep this kind of legal user traction going these service will need to keep up the aggressive pricing and platform agnostic accessibility. Because, unlike a Lannister, a content pirate doesn’t always pay his debts. 

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