Game of Thrones leak: this is more than just piracy, it’s betrayal

In 2013, Jeff Bawkes, CEO of HBO’s parent company Time Warner, surprised many in the TV and film industry by proclaiming that piracy of Game of Thrones was “better than an Emmy” in terms of generating a buzz.

“If you go to people who are watching it without subs, it’s a tremendous word-of-mouth thing,” he told investors, adding: “Our experience is that [piracy] leads to more paying subs.”

Figures certainly seem to bear this out – while Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world, the number of paying viewers has been increasing equally rapidly.

Game of Thrones Leak BitTorrent downloads 2014

So, as David argues, surely this weekend’s leak of the first four episodes is, in a slightly twisted way, good for the show as a whole? All publicity is good publicity after all, right?

Well, no, not really, because the implications of this case are far wider than subscribers ripping episodes and posting them to torrent sites.

HBO has confirmed to ABC that “the leaked four episodes of the upcoming season of Game of Thrones originated from within a group approved to receive them”.

In other words, the leaked videos – which constitute nearly half of the entire season’s material – came from a member HBO’s test audience for Game of Thrones, or potentially a member of the press.

This potential betrayal is worthy almost of the programme itself. Either a trusted insider has turned against HBO, leaking the (terrible quality) videos to torrent sites for reasons unknown, or their computer has been compromised and the data stolen. If this is the case, the malicious actor must have thanked their lucky stars, and almost certainly made off with more than just these videos.

I wonder, though, if HBO hadn’t got wind of such a plot in the making. On 11 March, the company announced it would be simulcasting the fifth series across 170 countries (although not the UK) in an effort to try and beat the pirates. HBO’s partnership with Now TV in the UK to broadcast Game Of Thrones episodes at the same time as they air on Sky Atlantic is also thought to be a measure to fend off piracy, although this hasn’t been confirmed by HBO. So much for embracing the word-of-mouth buzz.

Game of Thrones (credit:HBO)

At the end of the day, this leak is bad news for HBO. Buzz doesn’t generate revenue on its own, which makes “standard” piracy enough of a problem as it is. But a leak like this is even more of a quandary for the company – it, like all TV and film makers, needs test audiences and press reviews, but after this leak, how can it be sure they won’t turn against them and leak everything online, or else fall victim to a hack? No doubt this is the reason why the company apparently gives the testers and press low-quality video (the leaked episodes are only available in 480p), but a leak is a leak and there will be those who will download it regardless.

The one sunny side of all this is the leaks happened less than 24 hours before the official simulcast of the season five premier, which will surely put off many who would have been tempted to download and watch them had they appeared months ago.

If you don’t have a Sky subscription and want to watch the UK season premier tonight, you can subscribe to Now TV for £6.99 per month and, for the next two weeks, get access to all episodes of the previous four series as well, all in HD. Better than some “resolution brick” leaks, don’t you think?

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