Game of Thrones season four has set a new record for piracy with over 1m illegal downloads of the show globally, with data showing Australians have increased their lead at the top of the world piracy ladder.
According to data gathered by file-sharing site monitor TorrentFreak Australia is the only country to reach double digits in percentage share of illegal downloads of the show, with 11.6 per cent of pirating the program happening here.
An analysis of over 18,000 IP addresses shows Melbourne is the top city in the world for downloading the show illegally, followed by Athens and then Sydney, TorrentFreak reports.
In addition more than 300,000 people were actively sharing it within half a day of its US broadcast on HBO. The news comes despite attempts by broadcaster Foxtel to stem the need for piracy by distributing the content across more channels, and more cheaply.
The numbers break piracy records for the final episode of series three, when Australia again led the way in illegal downloads with the file ripped over 1m times within 24 hours and shared by up to 170,000 simultaneously. At the time that was a record for Australia, with TorrentFreak citing it accounted for 9.9 per cent of the 1m downloads that day.
This year Foxtel stepped up its efforts to broadcast Game of Thrones two hours after the US release yesterday, and make it available to watch for free through a promotional trial offer on its catchup viewing app Foxtel Play.
Despite the record rate of illegal downloading, Foxtel recorded some of its best ratings for the show on Showcase yesterday. And it also broke records for the show on HBO in the US with 6.6m people watching from 9pm/8pm central time as well as causing its streaming service HBO Go to crash.
The ‘Two Swords’ season premiere had 115,00 and 158,000 metro audience for the premier outings at 3.30pm and again at 7.30pm respectively, according to OzTam, making it the second most popular subscription TV program of the night after the live NRL match with 215,000.
Foxtel also gained another 16,00o metro viewers two hours after the first outing of the show and another 26,000 after the second outing on Showcase Plus 2, which follows the Showcase schedule on a two hour delay.
According to data provided by media analyst Steve Allen at Fusion Strategy, this marks a massive ratings bump for Foxtel as the the previous Game of Thrones series averaged 12,000 metro viewers per episode for the first live broadcast and 29,000 in consolidated ratings.
However, that audience had grown from an average of 7,000 metro viewers for the first live broadcast of shows throughout season two, and 14,000 consolidated.
TD: To Date
Note: Game of Thrones is Metropolitan only and first screening
Despite Foxtel’s growth Allen said Foxtel shows are more likely to be pirated as only around a quarter of Australian homes, 25 to 27 per cent, subscribe to pay TV, with Showtime included in a more expensive premium drama bundle.
Lori Flekser, executive director of the IP Awareness Foundation, said that is around the same number of Australians illegally downloading content, according to research.
A study by the IP Awareness Foundation found around 25 per cent of 18-64 year olds in Australia download or stream content illegally online and that number is slightly lower for 12-17 year olds, estimated to be around 24 per cent.
However the real number could be larger, Flekser said.
“We’re a population of only 23m, America who were less than us for illegal downloads have a population of 313m. I think we have a very dubious reputation for topping the piracy league tables and I hope people don’t consider this like a great sporting achievement and see it for what it is. It’s theft,” Flekser told Mumbrella.
US franchises appear to be the most pirated shows for the networks, with programs like the critically acclaimed Homeland the worst affected.
When Ten’s US franchise was released illegally online nearly a month before the US broadcast the first episode premiered to just 443,000 metro viewers, with statistics provided by Fusion Strategy showing its audience more than halved between the previous series and the one before.
Homeland averaged 341,000 metro viewers per episode of the third series late last year,compared to an average of 744,000 metro viewers for season two.
Recognising the change in viewing habits Ten made Homeland available immediately after the US broadcast on its catchup service Ten Play, and fast-tracked the rest of the series.
Rebekah Horne, head of digital at Channel Ten, said it has been a key part of Ten’s strategy.
“With the third season of Homeland, we made the first episode available for streaming on TenPlay just 15 minutes after it went to air in the United States, and then fast-tracked the rest of the series. It’s a strategy that also worked for Under the Dome, which averaged at 1.1 million viewers for Ten last year.”
Although the early broadcast did not lift live TV ratings, a long delay on broadcasting programs does not appear to have helped either.
When Channel Nine showed BBC drama Sherlock weeks after it was originally broadcast in the UK and after it had already been made available to legally buy via iTunes, it’s average audience per episode was around half of that from the previous season.
According to Fusion Strategy analysis of the OzTam preliminary metro ratings, Sherlock had an average 744,000 metro viewers per episode in the previous series, compared with just 341,000 for the latest series, which also aired weeks earlier in Perth than any other Australian capital city.
However, Seven’s British drama Downton Abbey was less badly affected by a long lead-time, although it still saw a drop from an average 1.161m metro viewers per episode for the last series to 995,000 for the one currently airing.
In the case of Downton Abbey, however, Allen said the impact was more likely to be caused by reactive scheduling from Channel Nine clawing back the younger audience Seven had gained for the series by putting on shows such as Fat Tony and Co in the same Sunday night timeslot.
The decline of other franchises such as Sherlock, however, was likely to have been impacted by illegal downloads because it had been held back, Allen said.
“There’s no question that piracy and other forms of getting content has affected the ratings,” Allen said.
But, he said Foxtel’s efforts to make Game of Thrones more available will help combat that.
“You would think the model would really discourage people from bothering to buy the DVD set from overseas or to pirate,” he said.
“They will have thought their strategy out really well and this will be the test of it.”
The subscription TV network released a special season-long Game of Thrones offer on Foxtel Play to make all previous episodes available through the app for $10 per month for subscribers.
And it secured an exclusive deal with HBO this year, preventing the show from being made available on Quikflix or iTunes in Australia until after the series has finished. It reduced the cost of its movies and drama package by $10 a month for subscribers, and new subscribers can sign up for Foxtel and add on the Showcase channel for $35 a month during Game of Thrones.
Bruce Meagher, director of corporate affairs at Foxtel, said: “We’ve adopted ‘Express from the US’ as a strategy and convinced the studios and other content producers or rights owners that it’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure that particularly those big international franchises are available.
“Studios are very reluctant to release content in advance, but we get them as quickly as we can and we put them out and that way anybody who’s involved in the conversation on Twitter or Facebook is not left behind.”
However Flesker said making shows available sooner may not be enough to stop piracy.
And according to the Torrent figures Foxtel’s efforts to make Game of Thrones as widely available as possible does not appear to have slowed the spread of piracy.
“Game of Thrones season three was available in Australia on Foxtel and iTunes within one hour of the US release, and Australia was still amongst the top 10 per cent of illegal downloads, so I don’t think for a second it was about availability,” Flesker said.
Update: A Channel Ten spokeswoman said ratings for Homeland declined by less than a third, 31 per cent, from season two to season three, and by 39 per cent from season one to season two, based on overnight ratings. Homeland season three averaged 402,000 metro viewers for Ten, and season two averaged 658,000 per episode, according to preliminary overnight metro ratings from OzTam, the spokeswoman said.