What’s most striking is the episode breakdown, because it suggests that many more people watched the blockbuster television series illegally this year than paid to see it on HBO.
Those 1.03 billion illegal downloads and streams were spread out over seven episodes and a downloadable bundle containing the entire season.
The season seven premiere made headlines for its record-breaking legal viewership of 16.1 million viewers who watched the show either live or later on HBO’s streaming platform, Variety reported. That number pales in comparison to its illegal downloads or steams: a whopping 187.4 million.
That’s more than 10 times the legal viewers.
Such dissonance wasn’t only relegated to the season premiere either.
The season finale garnered similar headlines for being the “most-watched episode ever,” according to Entertainment Weekly, which reported that it was watched 16.5 million times — breaking HBO’s rating records.
It was illegally streamed or downloaded 143.4 million times.
The piracy happened quickly. The season seven premiere, for example, was illegally downloaded and streamed more than 90 million times within three days of it airing. The finale, meanwhile, was pirated more than 120 million times in the same time period following its airing.
The second-most pirated episode, however, was the sixth. It was leaked after HBO Nordic accidentally aired the episode early in Spain, allowing pirates to steal the file and upload it to the Internet, as the Daily Beast reported. Presumably, this made it more attractive to fans who wanted to know what happened before they were legally given the chance.
It was illegally streamed or downloaded 184.9 million times.
Here are the full piracy numbers, as reported by MUSO:
- Episode one: 187,427,575
- Episode two: 123,901,209
- Episode three: 116,027,851
- Episode four: 121,719,868
- Episode five: 151,569,560
- Episode six: 184,913,279
- Episode seven: 143,393,804
- All Episode Bundles — Season 7: 834,522
The pirates viewed the show in a few different ways.
The most common — 84.7 percent — was streaming it from a website that posted the illegal content. Meanwhile, 9.1 percent of pirates downloaded it as a torrent file, which refers to a file broken into pieces and downloaded from many different servers at once. Another 0.6 percent of the downloads came from private torrent servers, which generally require an invite and a password to join. Finally, 5.6 percent of the illegal files were traditional downloads.
“Game of Thrones has become one of the biggest global entertainment phenomena of today and activity across piracy networks has been totally unprecedented,” MUSO CEO Andy Chatterley said in a statement. “In addition to the scale of piracy when it comes to popular shows, these numbers demonstrate that unlicensed streaming can be a far more significant type of piracy than torrent downloads.”
While the numbers are striking in their own right, they hint at how widespread the piracy problem is for Hollywood. Though finding the economic impact of piracy is difficult, there have been a few estimates in the past several years — many in the billions.
In 2010, the Directors Guild of America pegged the annual cost of global piracy to American companies at $25 billion in lost sales. This translated into 375,000 jobs lost each year, the organization claimed. In 2006, the Motion Picture Association of America commissioned a study that found film piracy cost the U.S. economy $20.5 billion.
The number of people watching pirated content only seems to be growing. In 2015, there were 78.5 billion incidents of piracy across all American television shows and movies, according to Business Insider.
A 2015 study commissioned by ScreenFutures, a group of screen producers, found that the main attraction for those who watched or downloaded illegally obtained television shows was that it was free and they weren’t afraid of being caught. They said they would probably change their behavior if they were fined or faced actual legal trouble.
HBO has not released a statement on the piracy numbers, but they would likely be somewhat concerning to a network that went to great lengths to avoid this exact outcome.
HBO no longer gives the press advance screeners of the show. Paper scripts were even eliminated because the network feared they could be easily leaked.
“It’s like protecting your house,” co-showrunner David Benioff told Entertainment Weekly. “You make it as hard as possible for burglars in hopes that they look for some other house to burgle, but it’s impossible to ever completely secure your house.”
For all that, though, their show was viewed 1.03 billion times without generating a single cent of profit.