Game of Thrones is a dark, dense, badass show on HBO about warring families and the politics that happen behind the scenes of power in the Middle Ages. The show is based on the fantasy series by George R.R. Martin and has been quite a hit for HBO. Like anything popular in the age of the Internet, people steal it. Shows that are broadcasted on HBO on Sunday nights are usually available for illegal downloading by Monday morning. Bit torrent sites like The Pirate Bay and Kick-Ass Torrents have networks with millions of people that host the files and make them available for free download, which as you can probably guess is terrible for the networks.
That happens all the time, though, with everything from not-yet-released music to movies dating back to the seventies. Well, this week Forbes had an article about how the second (and current) season of Game of Thrones is on track for being the most pirated series of 2012. For DirecTV customers, HBO costs $15.99 a month. Downloading a torrent of any show on HBO is easy and free. While it’s illegal, for many people torrents are an element of simple math.
While stealing music from the Pirate Bay hurts the wallet of new bands, a second Forbes article points out why it’s hard to feel bad for HBO. There’s no question pirating hurts the renewability factor of shows in the long term. Ratings go down and if someone realizes they can just steal the shows they like instead of subscribing to HBO the money the channel would be losing might be insignificant at first, but could hurt the budget of major shows in the future.
The problem for HBO is they seem to be burning the candle at both ends. The noose is slowly tightening around websites and consumers that provide illegal content and most TV fans would probably rather stream their shows on sites like Hulu or iTunes than break copyright laws and download trackers onto their computers along with a new episode. But HBO hasn’t made those avenues available. For customers without HBO, the only to see shows like Game of Thrones or the new comedy Veep is to download bit torrent files. And people are doing it like crazy. Episodes of the second season of Thrones have been illegally downloaded more than 25 million times since the premiere in early April.
HBO is also shooting itself in the foot by making more people comfortable with bit torrent sites. It’s probably not a shock to those readers who’ve never been on sites like The Pirate Bay or Project Free TV that these places seem less than legitimate. There are more links that don’t work than do and there are so many pop-up ads that it feels like the Internet of 1999 again. Like the major networks (but not HBO), these websites make money from advertisers and while you might think it’d be all adult ads, major companies like Verizon are getting in on the web traffic.
Every year people are watching less TV on TV. The market has responded loud and clear to the popularity of Game of Thrones, it’s just a shame HBO doesn’t know how to capitalize on that.