“Sadly, it seems the leaked four episodes of the upcoming season of ‘Game of Thrones’ originated from within a group approved by HBO to receive them,” HBO said in a statement. “We’re actively assessing how this breach occurred.”
The four episodes of the 10-segment season appeared on torrent sites sometime between 9 and 10 p.m. ET Saturday. Through 7 a.m. Sunday, the leaked “Game of Thrones” eps had been downloaded by more than 550,000 individual clients worldwide, according to piracy-tracking firm Excipio — and by 9 a.m., the figure was up to 778,985. [Update: By 5 p.m., downloads topped 1.7 million worldwide.]
The pirated “GoT” episodes are legitimate copies, Excipio said. According to Mashable, the four episodes appeared to come from a screener sent to reviewers (with the digital watermark blurred out) and are in 480p video format, equivalent to standard-definition TV, not HD.
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“Game of Thrones” has long been catnip for illicit downloaders. The HBO original series clocked in as 2014’s most-pirated TV show, with more than 48 million episodes snagged by pirates via file-sharing torrent services, and the season-four finale hit record levels of downloads within 24 hours of air.
The “Thrones” leak comes as the Time Warner-owned premium cable network has launched HBO Now: a broadband-only service that doesn’t require a pay-TV subscription for $15 monthly, designed to put HBO on the same footing as Netflix. HBO Now is available through Apple and Cablevision — but only in the U.S.
Studies indicate that piracy, especially pre-release piracy, has a depressing effect on revenue. But there’s also a feeling among some media execs that piracy can be promotional: Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes in 2013 famously remarked that piracy of “Game of Thrones” was “better than an Emmy” as far as generating buzz.