HBO: Game of Thrones Piracy is a Compliment, Doesn’t Hurt Sales

Last month the director of Game of Thrones admitted something that his paymasters had HBO might have avoided. Huge online piracy doesn't hurt the show, he said, and in fact might create benefits by generating cultural buzz. Well check the date if you like folks but the following is absolutely genuine. HBO programming president Michael Lombardo has just announced that not only is the huge piracy a compliment, but the phenomenon hasn't hurt DVD sales at all.

With a head-spinning 4.3 million downloads per episode, Game of Thrones became the most-pirated TV show on the Internet last year.

These figures understandably caused much debate, but left show director David Petrarca quite unruffled. During a panel discussion at the University of Western Australia the 47-year-old said that shows like Game of Thrones thrive on “cultural buzz” and benefit from the social commentary they generate. Piracy, he said, helps to oil those wheels.

But Petrarca wasn’t the only show associate with the impression that piracy might have its benefits. Just a couple of weeks later and the show’s actors were weighing in, with Rose Leslie, who plays Ygritte, describing it as a plus.

“I don’t think HBO will be too happy, but yes, one way or another that’s a huge compliment. Not just to me but to the show as a whole,” she said.

With Season 3 of the smash-hit series getting underway last night, HBO have also commented on the piracy situation but in a quite unexpected way. Rather than come out guns blazing they actually agree with Leslie – piracy is indeed a form of flattery.

“I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts,” HBO programming president Michael Lombardo told EW. “[Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network.”

For HBO to publicly admit that piracy is even a partial positive comes as quite a surprise, but it becomes even more interesting when Lombardo talks about its effect on revenue streams.

Last month Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the actor who plays Jaime Lannister in the show, said that although people watch the show online, he hoped they would still go out and buy the DVD or Blu-ray. And guess what? According to HBO, they do.

“The demand is there,” Lombardo said. “And it certainly didn’t negatively impact the DVD sales.”

These comments from HBO are significant and underline what many observers have suspected all along. If you have a great product you should expect piracy, but you can also count on large numbers of people to support your efforts financially too. Every viewer – paid or unpaid – is a potential ambassador for the show and therefore a valuable part of the marketing cycle.

It’s too early to say whether Episode 1 of Season 3 will break last year’s download stats but the signs are already there. Last night’s show rocketed straight to the top of The Pirate Bay’s charts for most active torrent, driving way ahead of its nearest competitor, episode 16 of season 3 of The Walking Dead.

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