The firm broke down the 1.03-billion illegal views in two ways: by episode and by file format. What’s most striking is the episode breakdown, because it suggests that many more people watched the blockbuster television series illegally this year than those who paid to see it on HBO.
The 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. That number pales in comparison to its illegal downloads or streams: 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. It was illegally streamed or downloaded 184.9-million times.
The pirates viewed the show in a few different ways. The most common - 84.7% - was streaming it from a website that posted the illegal content. Meanwhile, 9.1% 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% of the downloads came from private torrent servers, which generally require an invite and a password to join. Finally, 5.6% of the illegal files were traditional downloads.
“Game of Thrones has become one of the biggest global entertainment phenomena and activity across piracy networks has been totally unprecedented,” said Muso chief executive Andy Chatterley. “In addition to the scale of piracy when it comes to popular shows, these numbers demonstrate that unlicensed streaming can be more significant 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 - 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 375000 jobs lost each year.
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 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 behaviour if they were fined or faced legal action.
HBO has not released a statement on the piracy numbers, but they would likely be concerning to a network that went to great lengths to avoid this 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.
For all that, though, their show was viewed 1.03-billion times without generating a single cent of profit.