'Game of Thrones' Piracy Soars Ahead of Season 5 Premiere

Game of Thrones Jaimie Cersie - H 2015
Helen Sloan/HBO

A study from Irdeto found that episodes of the HBO drama were downloaded more than 7 million times during a three-month period this year.

Game of Thrones piracy has spiked ahead of the HBO drama's April 12 fifth-season premiere. 

During a three-month period this year, episodes of Game of Thrones were illegally downloaded more than 7 million times, according to rights management and piracy protection firm Irdeto. That's a 45 percent jump from the 4.9 million illegal downloads that Irdeto reported for the same period in 2014. 

Those numbers make Game of Thrones the most pirated show from Feb. 5 to April 6 this year, ahead of The Walking Dead (5.7 million downloads), Breaking Bad (3.8 million), Vikings (3.4 million) and House of Cards (2.7 million), according to Irdeto's research. 

The drama series, adapted from George R.R. Martin's popular series of novels, has worn the piracy crown for the last few years. It was the show with the most illegal downloads for its third consecutive year in 2014 with more than 8 million downloads via BitTorrent, according to TorrentFreak

The majority of the piracy comes from outside the United States. Brazil ranks as the top country for illegal Game of Thrones downloads. France comes in second and the U.S. rounds out the top three. 

HBO is making it easier for international fans of the fantasy series to watch it legally, however. The cable network announced in March that season five will air across 170 countries at the same time. During previous seasons, episodes were time-shifted for other territories or delayed by weeks or months. 

That piracy in the United States remains high — there were more than 464,000 illegal downloads during the three-month period, an increase of 9 percent over last year — is notable given the proliferation of HBO Go password sharing. HBO has acknowledged that password sharing for the TV Everywhere service occurs, but it has done little to prevent it. CEO Richard Plepler recently told CNN that password sharing isn't a big problem for the network. "We look at it very carefully," he said during an on-camera interview, adding that "right now password sharing is just simply not a big number." 

HBO will take a similar approach with HBO Now, the stand-alone streaming service it launched in the U.S. with Apple and Cablevision on April 7 ahead of the Game of Thrones premiere, Plepler told CNN. The HBO Now website currently states that it its $14.99 a month subscription is a "household subscription" but that the company could turn on "enforcement tools" if sharing becomes a problem. 

HBO views the new stand-alone service as a product aimed primarily at millennials and other consumers who don't currently subscribe to cable. But whether widespread availability of HBO content prevents piracy of popular programming such as Game of Thrones remains to be seen. But Irdeto's research report suggests it could help minimize illegal downloading. 

"It's often said that piracy is good marketing, but as piracy continues to skyrocket, the mindset is shifting toward offering a compelling legal alternative like HBO Now to start converting pirates into paying customers," said Irdeto vp services Rory O'Connor. "Our piracy data indicates Game of Thrones continues to be wildly popular in countries like Brazil and France, where a service like HBO Now could be a good way to recapture some revenue."