‘Game of Thrones’ Season 7 Hits 1 Billion Illegal Downloads

Game of Thrones is one of the biggest things to ever happen to television. Seth Meyers has a whole segment on Late Night that’s just him watching Game of Thrones with Leslie Jones, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was revealed to be a huge fan while she was in office, former US President Barack Obama got advance screenings of the show, and people even watch less porn while Game of Thrones is on. It’s no surprise, then, that Game of Thrones is also the most-pirated TV show in the world.

Inverse is reporting that the various episodes of season seven have been illegally downloaded over a billion times, which is roughly 150 million times per episode. This is five times the official viewing audience of 30 million HBO reported.

Personally, I can’t help but think at least part of this is because it’s so hard to see the show legally. HBO Now, the stand-alone streaming service that doesn’t require a cable subscription, is only just over two years old and was initially only available on Apple devices. DVD and Blu-Ray versions, along with legal digital downloads, were previously held back for an entire year after the season aired, and still aren’t available until months after the season finale airs. Other popular prime-time television shows, like Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory, are available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon a few hours after they air.

Basically, HBO’s attempts to drive people to cable subscriptions to watch Game of Thrones ended up training the viewing public to pirate it. By not offering any legal way to watch other than a $100 monthly cable subscription on top of $15 for HBO itself, people felt way less guilty pirating it. When legal options came around, a huge number of people were already in a an ecosystem based on piracy. HBO Now just isn’t a great value. It has far less content than Hulu and Netflix at a higher price point than either. And while it does have some great shows aside from Game of Thrones, like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Westworld, Game of Thrones is 90% of the reason to have HBO.

HBO was the very first cable channel, predating even the venerable ESPN. It positioned itself as a premium brand where you could watch movies just months after they aired in theaters and even original programming where people could say f**k because there were no advertisers or FCC guidelines. But now we have streaming and home video, and brands like Netflix offer the same kind of prestige programming at a lower price and with a much larger catalogue of content. The massive piracy of Game of Thrones tells us not only how popular the show is, but how out of step HBO is with modern consumers.

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