The first four episodes of "Game of Thrones" season five cropped up on on piracy networks late Saturday — nearly a full day before HBO's scheduled April 12 premiere of the popular fantasy series.
"Sadly, it seems the leaked four episodes of the upcoming season of Game of Thrones originated from within a group approved by HBO to receive them," said HBO in a statement. "We're actively assessing how this breach occurred."
The episodes appeared on torrent sites sometime between 9 and 10 p.m. ET Saturday. Through 7 a.m. Sunday, the leaked "Game of Thrones" eps had been downloaded by more than 550,000 individual clients worldwide, according to piracy-tracking firm Excipio — and by 9 a.m., the figure was up to 778,985. The pirated "GoT" episodes are legitimate copies, Excipio said; the source of the leak is unclear at this point but some outlets have speculated that it came from a press screener.
"Game of Thrones" has long been catnip for illicit downloaders. The HBO original series clocked in as 2014's most-pirated TV show, with more than 48 million episodes snagged by pirates via file-sharing torrent services, and the season four finale hit record levels of downloads within 24 hours of air.
The "Thrones" leak comes as the Time Warner-owned premium cable network has launched HBO Now: a broadband-only service that doesn't require a pay-TV subscription for $15 monthly, designed to put HBO on the same footing as Netflix. HBO Now is available through Apple and Cablevision — but only in the U.S.
Studies indicate that piracy, especially pre-release piracy, has a depressing effect on revenue. But there's also a feeling among some media execs that piracy can be promotional: Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes in 2013 famously remarked that piracy of "Game of Thrones" was "better than an Emmy" as far as generating buzz.
- Could the 'Game of Thrones' Dragons Fly and Breathe Fire?
- Sling TV Gets HBO Ahead of 'Game of Thrones' Premiere