The first episode of Game of Thrones series three attracted a bumper audience of 4.4m people (the largest viewership for a single episode of the drama to date) in the States over the weekend, with 700,000 watching in the UK on Sky Atlantic last night.
But it also proved a big hit with illegal downloaders, smashing piracy records to become the most-seeded Bittorrent download of all time.
The episode was shared in full or in part (“seeded”) by more than 320,000 people immediately after it was broadcast on Sunday evening on HBO in America, and the programme had been downloaded more than 1m times by Monday, according to data collated by torrentfreak.com.
The record’s previous holder, the opening episode of Heroes’ third season, was seeded and downloaded by 144,663 simultaneous users after transmission in 2008.
Game of Thrones is hugely popular with Bittorrent’s user: the show’s second series was the most illegally-downloaded TV property of 2012.
Discussing the fantasy drama’s popularity with pirates, HBO’s programming president Michael Lombardo said: “I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts.
“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.”
Unsurprisingly, the show earned the greatest number of illegal shares in America, with Britain and Australia following in second and third place respectively.
It is thought that the heavy piracy of Game of Thrones is due to the fact that the show is difficult to watch online legally. HBO offers a digital catch-up facility, but only to subscribers who’ve signed up for the service through traditional cable or satellite providers.
HBO recently hinted that it is considering introducing a digital-only subscription service, which is expected to cut down on the number of people sharing its shows online illegally.
If you weren’t among the 700,000 British viewers who saw Games of Thrones’ third series kick off on Sky Atlantic last night, and you resisted the temptation to download it on the sly, read our spoiler-free preview of the episode here.
Also, if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, vote for the show to receive the Audience Award at this year’s Bafta Television Awards here.