Updated | The first episode of Game of Thrones Season Six was one of the most anticipated television events in recent memory—but far less auspicious, it turns out, it was also one of the most anticipated torrents in recent memory, too.
The website also reports an increase in piracy of high-definition versions of the episode; around 50 percent of people who downloaded the show opted for a higher resolution 720p or 1080p version. In some bizarre way, it could be considered a testament to the show’s cinematic aesthetic that pirates are seeking better quality downloads, even though the files are much larger in size and therefore would take longer to download.
The biggest culprit in the piracy spree is Australia, accounting for 12.5 percent of illegal downloads. India follows closely behind with 9.7 percent. The U.S., where the show originates, accounted for 8.5 percent—this despite premium cable network HBO offering a free trial weekend to non-subscribers. The U.K. was in fourth place, contributing to 6.9 percent of first-day piracy.
Other countries where the mystery of Jon Snow’s death proved popular included the Philippines, Canada, the Netherlands, Greece, South Africa and Saudi Arabia.
These numbers solely account for torrent downloads and don’t factor in illegal streams or direct downloads, so the extent of unauthorized consumption is likely to be much higher.
Of course, Game of Thrones’ piracy problem is not a new thing. The show has topped TorrentFreak’s list of the most-pirated TV shows four years in a row between 2012 and 2015.
The staggering numbers in which it was illegally downloaded in 2015 doubled its nearest rival, fellow cable powerhouse The Walking Dead. Thrones was downloaded 14.4 million times over the course of the year, compared to 6.9 for the zombie thriller.
The season five finale in June 2015, that ended with the cliffhanger of Jon Snow’s murder, contributed heavily to that figure: it was reportedly downloaded 1.5 million times in the eight hours after it aired in the U.S. alone.
The show’s popularity in the dark corners of the internet is well known to HBO. In 2013, the cable network’s programming president Michael Lombardo said he saw it as a “compliment.” “The demand is there. And it certainly didn’t negatively impact the DVD sales,” he explained. “[Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network.”
But a lot can change in three years. With the latest season the most anticipated yet, HBO has taken greater steps to curtail piracy. In March, Lombardo announced that there would be no advance episodes sent to press this season, partly due to season five episodes leaking online in 2015.
This story has been amended to make it clear that the illegal downloads were made over various peer-to-peer sharing torrent sites, not the site BitTorrent.com.