Mid April the first episode of Game of Thrones’ fifth season will find its way onto dozens of torrent sites.
Like previous years, a few hours later millions of people will have downloaded this unofficial release.
Traditionally, pirates have used “availability” as an excuse to download movies and TV-shows from illegal sources. In some countries there is simply no legal option available, the arguments often go.
To remove this piracy incentive HBO has made sure that the new Game of Thrones series is available in as many countries as possible. The company recently announced that it will air in 170 countries roughly at the same time as the U.S. release.
This decision is being framed as an anti-piracy move and may indeed have some effect. However, availability is not the only reason why so many people choose to download the show from unauthorized sources.
In fact, if we look at the list of countries where most Game of Thrones downloaders came from last year, we see that it was legally available in all of these countries.
Data gathered during the first 12 hours of the season 4 premiere revealed that most downloads originated from Australia, followed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands. So there must be something else going on.
The price tag attached to many of legal services may be too high for some. In Australia, for example, it cost $500 to follow last year’s season and in the U.S. some packages were priced as high as $100 per month.
This year there is some positive change to report in the US, as iTunes now offers a $15-per-month subscription without the need for a cable subscription. But if the steep prices remain in most countries it’s unlikely that the piracy rates will drop significantly.
This is nothing new for HBO of course. The company has probably considered offering separate and cheaper Game of Thrones packages, but while this may result in less pirates it will also severely hurt the value of their licensing deals and full subscription plans.
And aside from the financials, piracy also has it upsides.
Game of Thrones director David Petrarca previously admitted that piracy generated much-needed “cultural buzz” around his show. Similarly, Jeff Bewkes, CEO of HBO’s parent company Time Warner, noted that piracy resulted in more subscriptions for his company and that receiving the title of “most-pirated” was “better than an Emmy.”
All in all it’s safe to say that Game of Thrones will be crowned the most pirated TV-show again in 2015. The only uncertainty right now is whether it will break last year’s BitTorrent “swarm record,” which currently stands at 254,114 simultaneous sharers.