Despite more ways to watch, “Game of Thrones” still has a huge piracy problem

And it’s showing no signs of letting up.
And it’s showing no signs of letting up.
Image: Courtesy of HBO
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It’s not White Walkers that are plaguing HBO. It’s pirates.

Ahead of last night’s highly anticipated season premiere of its biggest show, Game of Thrones, HBO offered audiences even more ways to watch legally. The premium TV network is already available in the US through:

  • cable and satellite providers like Comcast and DirecTV, respectively,
  • telecom companies like Verizon,
  • video on-demand services like Amazon Channels,
  • internet-TV packages like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue that work with devices such as the Apple TV and game consoles
  • directly to consumers through its own online services, HBO Now and HBO Go,
  • and it even recently starting selling itself as an add-on to Hulu, a US video on-demand platform that recently launched its own live-TV service.

That hasn’t stopped viewers from accessing the enormously popular show through unofficial channels, though.

About 5% of Americans surveyed by the personal-finance site said they planned to watch the seventh season of Game of Thrones by illegally streaming, downloading, or obtaining an illegal copy of the show from someone else.

Finder suggests that figure, if applied to the US viewing population, works out to nearly the equivalent of the number of viewers who tuned in for the last season opener. The sixth season of Game of Thrones premiered to 10.7 million viewers on TV and HBO’s streaming services HBO Go and HBO Now in 2016, Fortune reported.

Previous episodes of the show set piracy records.

The season-five opener was downloaded a record 1.5 million times in the first eight hours after that episode aired in 2015. And last year’s premiere was downloaded more than 1 million times in half a day. The series has also topped a list of most-pirated shows by TorrentFreak, which estimates torrent downloads, for the past five years running. (TorrentFreak stopped publishing torrent download counts for the show this year, because it says illegal streaming, which is more difficult to track, has become a more popular form of piracy.)

HBO and Nielsen have not yet released the overnight ratings for Game of Thrones‘s Sunday night premiere. Still, while it doesn’t bode well that HBO’s US website went down briefly last night, due to the high demand for the show and that HBO Go had issues in Latin America, the show’s TV viewership has climbed steadily season over season.

In the past, HBO didn’t seem to care much. “We’ve been dealing with this issue for years with HBO, literally 20, 30 years, where people have always been running wires down on the back of apartment buildings and sharing with their neighbors,” Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes told Forbes in 2014. “Our experience is, it all leads to more penetration, more paying subs, more health for HBO, less reliance on having to do paid advertising… If you go around the world, I think you’re right, Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. Well, you know, that’s better than an Emmy.”

But, during the sixth season of Game of Thrones, the network sent copyright-infringement warnings at unprecedented rates to alleged pirates and asked sites to remove torrents for HBO programs in reaction to the widespread piracy, CinemaBlend reported. The warnings also directed downloaders to legal means of watching the fantasy series.