Game Of Thrones Season 3 Premieres To Record Ratings, Piracy

Everyone, it seems, is a Game Of Thrones fan. The fantasy series, which was spawned out of a series of novels by George R. R. Martin and adapted for HBO, just aired its third season premiere last night and a whole bunch of people were watching. The show touted its largest-ever live audience during the broadcast, which is good news. The bad news is that it also had more people pirating the show than ever before.

The Season 3 premiere had an average of 4.4 million viewers at 9:00 p.m. on Sunday, which was greater than Game of Thrones’ previous record showing of 4.2 million viewers. That was for the Season 2 finale, which set the stage for the new season. It was also substantially higher than the Season 2 premiere, which had 3.9 million viewers last year. Over three airings, the premiere had 6.7 million viewers, which was above the 6.3 million that tuned in for the previous season’s debut.

Last night’s stats were impressive, but HBO can expect a lot more views when it counts on-demand, DVR, and online streams of the show. Last season, HBO reported that Game of Thrones had an average gross audience of 11.6 million people watching when non-live viewers were also taken into account. No doubt the larger live viewership will likely translate into a larger aggregate audience on HBO’s on-demand and streaming distribution channels.

That said, while the Game of Thrones audience is tuning in en masse to watch the show live on HBO, the number of people downloading the show for free is growing even more quickly, according to TorrentFreak. That shouldn’t be too surprising, as Game Of Thrones has been the most-pirated show over the past year.

But TorrentFreak reported that, after a quick look at the number of downloads from the premiere, Game Of Thrones appears to have become even more popular this season. A few hours after airing, hundreds of thousands of users were part of the swarm to download or seed the series to others:

A few hours after the first torrent of the show was uploaded the OpenBitTorrent tracker reported that 163,088 people where sharing one single torrent. 110,303 were sharing a complete copy of that particular torrent while 52,786 were still downloading.

How big is that? TorrentFreak notes that the previous record for the largest BitTorrent swarm “belonged to the season premiere of the TV show ‘Heroes’ with 144,663 peers.” But that was just a single file. Considering that there are usually multiple versions of an episode being seeded at any given time, TorrentFreak estimates that more than a million viewers have downloaded the show since being aired last night.

In addition to the number of downloads TorrentFreak had more info, including a breakdown of where those downloaders are coming from. HBO has said in the past that many pirates of its shows are international viewers frustrated by the typical lag between the U.S. air date and when the show appears in other markets. HBO is working to collapse those windows.

But a quick look at the early Game of Thrones torrent stats shows that the No. 1 market for pirates is actually the U.S., which is where nearly 13 percent of downloads were coming from. English-speaking markets like the U.K., Australia, and Canada were also big on pirating the show. Surprisingly enough, Australia, which has a population of a little more than 20 million, made up about 10 percent of the total. (That, by the way, matches comments that Martin made about a lot of the show’s piracy coming from the island nation.)

What’s clear from the data is that not all the pirated downloads are coming from markets that didn’t have access to the show in the hours immediately after airing, and in fact, there’s a large number of viewers in the U.S. who just aren’t paying to watch the show.

That’s no longer surprising, of course, and it seems to be a fact of life that HBO is just willing to live with, knowing that not everyone is going to pay for cable plus a premium video channel like HBO just to watch one show. Then again, there are some who believe HBO could cash in on folks who love its programming, but don’t want to pay $100 a month to get it.

But if you think HBO is going to make that switch anytime soon, don’t bet on it.