HBO recently changed its policy for reviewers of its tentpole series Game of Thrones in order to curtail piracy, and it looks like there’s good reason. Variety reports that the latest episode of the smash hit fantasy series has hit an all-time piracy record, having been downloaded more than 2.2 million times in just the first 12 hours following the episode’s premiere.
Citing piracy tracking firm Excipio, the report claims the episode started popping up online almost immediately after airing, and by 10AM Eastern, it had already reached 2.2 million downloads and counting.
Piracy is certainly nothing new for the series, which has been breaking piracy records virtually since its debut. In fact, just two years ago, HBO President of Programming Michael Lombardo was quoted as saying that the massive trend of pirating the show was “better than winning an Emmy” on an earnings call, according to the Washington Post.
However, HBO’s stance on piracy appears to have changed significantly in recent months following the leak of 4 episodes of Season 5. The leak, copied from a reviewer screener disc, prompted the company to send out warnings to thousands of torrenters, as well as change its policy for reviewers, making new episodes of the series available for early viewing via streaming only.
And that’s likely not the only reason the premium network has changed its tune when it comes to its prized series’ position as the darling of illegal downloaders. As the launch of the network’s new standalone service HBO Now continues to roll out, the HBO is likely looking for all those torrenters to move out of the shadows of the black market and pony up for the service’s $15/month subscription fee.
Part of the reason HBO may still be having so much trouble getting torrentors to follow the rules is the decision to launch HBO Now in limited release — the new streaming service is currently only available for Apple devices and a small selection of Cablevision’s Internet service customers.
The company is reportedly working with several other platforms, like Roku and Amazon’s Fire TV, which will eventually host the service, but those likely won’t be up and running until after Game of Thrones Season 5 is finished. For now, non-subscribers looking to get their taste of violence, sex, and intrigue in Westeros find it much easier to simply jump on a torrent site.
And even as HBO Now becomes more accessible, thanks to the previous stance from HBO brass, the network has a culture problem on its hands when it come to torrenting of Game of Thrones and other popular series. After all, it’s hard to go after illegal downloaders once you’ve used them as a way to boast about a series’ popularity. Further, some believe that HBO Now is simply too pricey for some users, costing almost double the price of Netflix, the streaming gold standard.
Even with HBO Now out of reach for many cord cutters, there are still plenty of ways to get your fix without technically breaking the law, including borrowing authentication information from legal subscribers to HBO’s other prominent streaming app, HBO GO, which accompanies a cable subscription and works with multiple streaming devices and platforms.
Still, it seems that unless HBO starts going after each individual downloader in court, as long as episodes of Game of Thrones are available to torrent, the skull and crossbones will continue to fly.