Game of Thrones has long had a piracy problem. Ever since the show hit the big time, it had consistently been the most pirated show in HBO history, often by orders of magnitude. While HBO laughed it off at first, it quickly became such a narrative that it helped push their move to modernize how programs were viewed, including launching the stand alone HBO Now service to help make the channel more affordable and less pirated. But this year, the Game of Thrones Season 7 leaks worked against them, and once again they have broken piracy records, with over a billion downloads.
When you hit numbers this large it can be a little difficult to comprehend them. So let's try and put this into context.
- In 2011, Game of Thrones Season 1 (after Showtime's Dexter) was the second most pirated show in the world, with 3.4 million downloads overall. That's about the population of Puerto Rico.
- In 2012, Season 2 became the number one pirated show in the world with 4 million downloads, That's about the population of Los Angeles.
- In 2013, Season 3 broke it's own record with 5.9 million downloads, just under the population of Kyrgyzstan.
- In 2014, Season 4 broke the record again with 8.9 million. That's about the number that watched the Season 6 finale legally two years later, or about the population of New York City.
- In 2015, Season 5 broke that record again (again) with 14.4 million, which is about the population of Zimbabwe.
Then last year, it stalled out. Though Game of Thrones Season 6 was still the most downloaded by an order of magnitude, it failed to reach the 14.4 million high of Season 5. Part of the reason, despite the anticipation of Jon Snow being alive or dead, is that HBO Now had finally become available on multiple platforms. (In Season 5 it was only available through Apple TV.) HBO Go also stabilized and was not as crash prone as previous years.
Also, and this matters, part of what drove those Season 5 highs was the leaking of episodes. Season 5 saw the first four episodes of the series (which were mailed out as DVD screeners) released to Pirate Bay 24 hours before the premiere. (They were very obviously the screeners, because there was a blurred block where the reviewer's creds were blurred out.)
For Season 6, HBO not only had updated their TV viewing ways, but also their screener policy, both in who they allow to see them, and how they distribute them. Season 6 had zero screeners released. It also only had one episode leak the entire season, and that was due to an operator error in the Netherlands where the HBO Go version went live the night before. It was up for less than 24 hours before the episode aired.
Season 7 has been another story. Not only were there script leaks months ahead of time, and the HBO hack (which had mostly scripts that verified the first leaks.) There were also two major episodes leaked ahead--and days ahead, not "less than 24 hours" ahead. Because of the HBO hack/previous leaks, both episodes that hit the net were known to have highly anticipated major battle scenes in them.
The result Game of Thrones Season 7 was illegally pirated 1 billion times. With a B. That's about the population of India. That's 140 million downloads per episodes, if you divide by seven, or about the population of Russia -- per episode.
Game of Thrones will most likely not air in 2018, if the rumors are true, suggesting that HBO will finally be spared winning this crown for one year. As for how the last six episodes will fare? That's a record we'll have to wait and see on.