‘Game of Thrones’ premiere sets piracy record, but HBO exec doesn’t mind

Winter is coming in the new season of HBO's "Game of Thrones." In this picture, one unlucky character succumbs to the power of the north. (HBO (via Facebook as Game of Thrones)

The season premiere of Game of Thrones appears to have been the most simultaneously downloaded torrent ever, but at least one HBO exec doesn’t seem bothered that people are getting their content for free.

In less than a day, there were more than a million downloads from the popular torrent site. According to Torrent Freak, 163,088 people were sharing a single torrent file at its peak late Sunday night. The previous record was the season premiere of Heroes, which had 144,663 people sharing a torrent.

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HBO programming president Michael Lombardo spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the massively pirated show. Game of Thrones was reported to be the most pirated show in 2012, but according to Lombardo, that hasn’t translated into a negative revenue impact.

“I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts,” Lombardo said to Entertainment Weekly. “The demand is there. And it certainly didn’t negatively impact the DVD sales. [Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network.”

The world is a very different place now from when The Sopranos was on television. I remember very clearly watching the Golden Globes in 2000 and feeling frustrated that a show that no one I knew was watching was winning all these accolades. The show launched the same year as Napster, meaning the idea of going online to find the show and downloading it was almost completely unheard of.

Now in 2013, many more people are watching the premium channel shows that they may not get the chance to otherwise, largely because of how commonplace online piracy has become. There are some who go the legal route – like actually paying for HBO and watching the show on television. But for many people, downloading a show like Game of Thrones through much less legal means is the only way they’ll see it.

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And just because many are downloading it for an initial watching, it doesn’t mean they aren’t paying to watch it again later. Lombardo confirmed that based on international and DVD sales, Game of Thrones remains HBO’s top money-earner in its current offering of shows.

Lombardo points out that HBO is still against piracy, but they have largely taken a laid-back approach to the average user downloading episodes to watch on their own.

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