HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones attracted 4.4 million viewers for its third season premiere, but also drove about one million downloads from BitTorrent users less than 24 hours after it aired, marking a new torrent record for a single episode in that span.
The premiere was aired Sunday on HBO, which also happened to be a free preview weekend for TV providers like Comcast, allowing non-subscribers to watch the episode for free. Past episodes were also being aired over the weekend to help generate interest and bring new viewers up to speed on the Game of Thrones universe. HBO hasn’t commented on whether the preview saw a spike in subscriptions.
Instead, the episode formed the biggest BitTorrent “swarm” ever recorded, meaning that more than 320,000 users were sharing at least part or all of the episode at one time. The feat smashed the previous record of 144,633 users for the season 3 premiere of Heroes, according to torrentfreak.com, which monitors torrent traffic.
If that wasn’t enough, the episode has also been downloaded over a million times — a sure sign that Game of Thrones will be the most downloaded show of the year, a distinction it also held last year, based on figures published on the site.
Many of the downloaders hailed from other countries, chiefly the U.K. and Australia, even though HBO made every effort to air the episode worldwide to ward off piracy. In a statement released yesterday, HBO claimed it saw “benefits of this strategy with viewership up significantly in international markets” and that the show had become a “global phenomenon” but that “with such success also comes theft”. It closed the statement by saying that it will look to improve those efforts to protect its content, but didn’t elaborate further.
The numbers really shouldn’t be that surprising, given the show’s popularity and the fact it airs on a subscription-only channel. Maybe HBOGo will be available outside of a cable subscription sooner than later after this.