Game of Thrones has “won” again. HBO’s fantasy hit was named the most illegally downloaded series of 2014.
According to piracy-tracking site TorrentFreak, episodes from the show’s fourth season were downloaded 8.1 million times, making it the third year in a row Thrones has taken the annual top spot. In terms of illicit downloads, Thrones even easily beat AMC’s The Walking Dead (4.8 million) and CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (3.9 million) – two big hits that outperform Thrones in the traditional Nielsen ratings. (Thrones averages about 19 million viewers across HBO airings and platforms, making it the cable network’s most popular show of all time.)
Why does Thrones consistently lead among pirated shows? We can only speculate based on comments from readers and HBO insiders, but there appear to be several factors at play: HBO is a relatively pricey subscription service, one that you can only currently watch online if you also have a traditional cable subscription. For overseas fans, Thrones episodes are often delayed by a day or more—which can be unacceptable for those who are worried about seeing spoilers online in the intensely serialized and oft-shocking show. Plus, the sweeping story based on George R.R. Martin’s novels has worldwide appeal with an international cast.
TV piracy has continued to rise in recent years, while traditional outlets are exploring more progressive streaming models. In 2015, HBO plans to debut a stand-alone streaming service that allows fans to watch its current programming without a cable subscription for the first time. (Showtime has a similar service in the works as well.) Unconfirmed reports have suggested HBO’s service will debut in time for Thrones’ fifth season, which recently wrapped production and is expected to premiere this spring (in very late March or early April, if other seasons are any indication).
HBO did not reply for a request for comment on the ranking, but previously the network’s executives have made statements ranging from noting that “piracy is a compliment” of sorts, to condemning the practice.
Some fans who pirate Thrones have said if the series was available online without a cable subscription, they would gladly pay to watch. Soon we’ll get a sense if that’s actually true.
Most pirated shows of 2014:
1. Game of Thrones (8,100,000 downloads)
2. The Walking Dead (4,800,000)
3. The Big Bang Theory (3,900,000)
4. How I Met Your Mother (3,500,000)
5. Gotham (3,200,000)
6. Arrow (2,900,000)
7. Grey’s Anatomy (2,800,000)
8. Vikings (2,700,000)
9. Suits (2,500,000)
10. South Park (2,400,000)