Research: Game of Thrones episode leaks led some viewers to become pirates…permanently

Days before the premiere of Game of Thrones season 5, the first four episodes of the season leaked online. Those four episodes were from a DVD screener sent to critics ahead of the season premiere. By some estimates, the episodes were downloaded over one million times. HBO took steps to correct this, such as no longer sending advance episodes to critics. However, there was some damage the network couldn’t undo. According to a new report from Wojciech Hardy of the Institute for Structural Research and the University of Warsaw, the season 5 leak led to a downturn in viewership and inspired people who had previously not engaged in piracy to start, not just for Game of Thrones but for shows like it.

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.

In other words, once people figured out how to pirate Game of Thrones, they were more open to pirating other shows. Once you get a taste of the pirate’s life, it’s hard to go back.

Hardy goes on: “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.” So Keeping Up With the Kardashians was fine, but shows like Vikings or The Leftovers may have taken a hit. Hardy’s conclusion was also based on an increase in Google search terms associated with illegal streaming, such as “Game of Thrones watch online.” And while it might seem that everyone on the planet watches Game of Thrones, HBO covets every single viewer, making online piracy something they probably do not take lightly.

But of course, there’s more to the story. While viewership of other TV shows dropped off some after the leak of the Game of Thrones episodes, it slowly recovered afterwards. Moreover, more people started to look for unauthorized sources of these shows. According to Hardy’s interpretation, some people who were introduced to unauthorized sources by the leak may have decided to explore other shows, as well.

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. 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.

So if content creators like HBO raise their prices too high, viewers may seek out alternate means of watching their favorite shows. But if they find the right price point, it could turn some pirates back into law-abiding citizens. It’s all about balance.

You can read the full report here.

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h/t Torrent Freak

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