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Pre-Release Game of Thrones Leaks Bred Pirates, Research Shows


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Three years ago, four Game of Thrones episodes leaked online before the season had started. As a result, millions of people turned to unauthorized sources to watch them. New research shows that this had a long-lasting negative impact on the official viewership of both Game of Thrones and related shows.


The pre-release leak of four Game of Thrones episodes, early 2015, is one of the most prominent piracy cases in TV history.


The first copies, leaked from a review screener, quickly spread across public torrent sites and were downloaded millions of times


HBO was understandably upset and feared that the leaks would hurt their bottom line. While that was not immediately apparent after the official premiere, new research suggests that they had a significant impact. And not just on Game of Thrones.


A new working paper published by economy researcher Wojciech Hardy of the Institute for Structural Research and the University of Warsaw carefully dissected the aftermath.


The findings show that the pre-release leaks triggered more people to pirate, and not just the four leaked episodes. This led to a decrease in expected viewers for Game of Thrones, but also for comparable TV-shows.


“The general conclusion is that the leak provided a strong incentive for some of the viewers to look for unauthorized sources for TV shows and that, in consequence, some of them started watching TV shows through unauthorised channels in general,” Hardy tells TorrentFreak.


The reasoning behind this effect is that the leaks introduced some people to these unauthorized sources for the first time. They then kept using these for subsequent episodes.



Ratings, viewership and predicted viewership.



For his research, Hardy used an extensive dataset of US TV-viewership of a variety of shows over time, as well as related Google search data. This revealed that other series, similar to Game of Thrones, were negatively impacted too, compared to a control group.


“Importantly, a negative shift in viewership was found, evidenced both by a drop in the viewership of GoT and by a decline in the viewership of TV shows that share an audience with GoT,” Hardy writes in the paper.


This makes sense, as newcomers to pirate sites are likely to use them for other content as well. That this appears to be a direct effect of the leaks is evidenced by the fact that the decrease in expected viewership wasn’t visible for unrelated TV-shows.


The findings are backed up by Google search data too. Following the pre-release leaks, Google search phrases linked to unauthorized viewing (such as ‘show_name watch online’) gradually increased for GoT-related shows, relative to a control group.


The key message of the current research, according to Hardy, is that even temporary piracy incentives such as pre-release leaks can have long-term effects. They only affect a small percentage of the total audience, but every lost viewer costs money.

This is bad news for HBO and others who have been in a similar situation. However, the data also shows that there may be a promotional effect, possibly because people discover new shows.


As searches for unauthorized sources increased, the viewership of GoT-like shows slowly recovered. This suggests that there may be a promotional piracy effect, where people start to watch shows legally after discovering them on pirate sites.


“On the one hand, this means that the content providers should pay much attention not to incentivize their audience to switch to unauthorized sources to avoid losses,” Hardy says.


“On the other hand, it’s possible that adequate promotional incentives might convince some of the ‘pirates’ to switch to the authorized distribution channels instead, he adds.”


Follow-up studies may provide more clarity on this and other effects.

A copy of the full working paper, titled Pre-release leaks as one-time incentives for switching to unauthorised sources of cultural content, is available here (pdf).



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The reason  the show is no longer  doing as good it's been on for years and years and with the cutting it back to just 6 eps last season and news of it ending after one more season    people have lost interest in it.   The longer a show airs the bigger chance that the public will find  some new show more interesting . Always all shows end no matter how popular they once was .GOT  had a good run , I watched  it for years but last year's season Ive not even watched it yet  because the show is coming to a end anyways and there is  so much shows on TV ,  Many good shows only made it but one season and i don't think it had anything to do with leaks,  more like they said it was ending and  it made some not interested in it no more . This why some don't  watch TV and just watch movies because when you get interested in a show they just end it when they see fit.   I liked Banshee a lot more than GOT and it only made it 4 seasons.  It ended with over 8 to 9 point  IMDB  ratings  per show.  proof of they just ended it before it got old and crusty like GOT :tooth:  :P




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I didn't watch or follow any TV series until one day out of curiosity I watched the first episode of Spartacus. The first episode was enough to awaken my curiosity and I watched the whole of season 1 which was excellent, especially because of the actor who played the principal role, the late great Andy Whitfield who was a superstar in the making. After he died I watched the remaining "prequel" season and seasons 3 and 4 which were all very good. This wet my appetite for TV series which were now, in general, better written than the awful (but popular) series of the 70's and 80's like Dallas and Dynasty. I love Game Of Thrones and I'm looking forward eagerly to the final season which is coming in 2019!!:P:P:P

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then I may be anomaly , cos I've all seasons of GOT BluRays stashed but I haven't even had the curiosity to start.

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