More than 1 million fans illegally downloaded the first episode of Game of Thrones Season 3 this week, within 24 hours of its premiere.
That set a record, according to TorrentFreak, a blog that reports the latest trends on file-sharing. The blog also named the popular HBO series the most illegally downloaded television show of 2012.
The illicit popularity of the show, based on George R.R. Martin’s best-selling fantasy books, has wider implications for the future of TV. Wired.com writer Graeme McMillan tells NPR’s Jacki Lyden how online piracy is shaping what we watch.
Who are the Game of Thrones pirates?
“They’re international. The majority of people for this particular episode were actually American, which is a first. Previously they have been predominantly Australian, oddly enough. But this time Australia was the third most popular country for piracy. It was U.S., U.K. and then Australia.”
On how HBO’s surprising reaction to the piracy
“Traditionally, studios and networks are very much on the line of ‘Downloading is bad, illegal piracy is bad, we do not support this at all.’ HBO has been surprisingly polite if not kind about the illegal downloads. You had HBO’s programming chief, Michael Lombardo, saying a couple weeks ago that his bigger concern wasn’t the people who were downloading, but that by downloading they’d get an inferior product.”
On not giving fans what they want
“Currently if you want to stream HBO content online, you have to sign up for the cable channel. There was an online campaign called ‘Take My Money, HBO’ that was essentially, ‘We’d love to stream the shows, we’d like to pay for this, but we don’t want to sign up for a cable subscription. Can you offer something else?’ And HBO has teased the option. Before, they’ve said, ‘Maybe, if we can get the math correct,’ but they’ve never really come out and said, ‘This is something we’re interested in.’
“Their concern is in order to stay competitive with other streaming services, they would have to have a low price point for streaming, which would undercut the cable subscription.”
On whether online piracy of Game of Thrones hurts HBO
“I’m not sure it does. I think it really raises the profile of the show and raises the profile of HBO in general. One of the HBO directors for Game of Thrones, a guy called David Petrarca, actually said, ‘No, it’s great. It really helps the show’s cultural buzz, and it does not impact the bottom line because HBO has more than enough money to keep making the show.’
“So what this is, is, this makes HBO the center of a cultural conversation about illegal downloading, about streaming content, about the production of content and distribution of content, which is probably somewhere they really want to be.”
On the future of online TV
“Television is heading online. It is just something that, at this point, is going to happen. There was a Deloitte report that came out last month that said in 2012, tablet ownership exploded. It went up significantly from previous years. Tablet owners watch far more television than people who do not own tablets. So as that grows, the amount of television grows, it’s just that they’re watching it online.”