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TorrentFreak: 'Game of Thrones' Was 2013’s Most Pirated Show

The season three finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones was 2013’s most pirated television episode via BitTorrent, according to a tally released Wednesday by the website TorrentFreak. The episode was downloaded an estimated 5.9 million times, with more than half those downloads occurring within a week of the episode’s first broadcast.

The June 9 premiere telecast of the season three finale drew 5.4 million viewers to HBO. That number was up 28% from the 4.2 million viewers the season two finale earned last year. Season three, episode six is thus far the series-high watermark, having drawn 5.5 million viewers.

This is the second consecutive year that Game of Thrones has been named TorrentFreak’s most pirated show. According to the site’s founder, Ernesto Van Der Sar, the list is a best guess based on public information displayed on most BitTorrent sites. “There is no way to accurately count the completed downloads, so it is an estimate,” Van Der Sar said. He added that BitTorrent likely accounts for about half of all television piracy, with the other half coming from platforms such as streaming sites and cyberlocker downloads.

The TorrentFreak list ranks each series by its most downloaded episode. Game of Thrones beat out the finales of Breaking Bad (4.2 million) and The Walking Dead (3.6 million) to top the list for the second consecutive year. Unlike Game of Thrones, which airs on premium-cable HBO, Breaking Bad and Walking Dead’s finales earned more viewers via their premiere telecasts on AMC than illegal downloads. Game of Thrones likely benefited from having aired in the first half of the year, giving it more time to rack up high numbers of downloads.

Some of the people behind Game of Thrones have touted the show’s reputation for piracy as a badge of honor. In an August earning call, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes called it “better than an Emmy.”

“Some shows benefit more than others” from piracy, Van Der Sar said, noting that for many people downloading content through BitTorrent is too cumbersome to be relied on for regular viewing. “They might learn about the show from someone who downloaded it illegally, and they decide to buy an HBO subscription to view it.” But the downside, he added, is that some would-be subscribers become hooked on free viewing through torrents. “The net effect is probably close to zero. There’s upsides and downsides.”

However, Steve Mosko, president of Breaking Bad producer Sony Pictures Television, feels the exact opposite. During NewBay Media's NYC TV Week in October, Mosko wondered why executives would brag about having a show that was being illegally downloaded.