The link between Game Of Thrones and the Internet is not limited merely to contentious comment board discussions, Mr. Skin screencaps, and videos in which Joffrey gets slapped to rock songs. Not surprisingly, it turns out a lot of people are illegally downloading it, too—more people, in fact, than have downloaded any other TV series this year. Forbes has the numbers behind the obvious, noting that the show's second-season episodes have been downloaded more than 25 million times since their April 1 debut, with the April 30 outing setting a new piracy peak for the series at over 2.5 million downloads in a single day, and easily putting it on track to be 2012's most pirated show.
Of course, the reason for all the torrenting is also obvious: As illustrated in this cartoon at The Oatmeal, HBO makes it all but impossible to watch the show without a cable subscription, keeping it off streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, refusing to sell current episodes on iTunes, and only making it available online through HBO Go—a site that requires an HBO subscription to access. In short, anyone who's embraced a "cord-cutting," cable-free existence has no legal recourse, so they're resorting to The Pirate Bay and the like. And naturally, one might see this as yet more evidence that media companies should consider addressing piracy by figuring out how to provide newer, more streamlined means of access to their content, such as maybe providing HBO Go as a standalone Internet service.
But in this case, one does not work for HBO; instead, people like co-president Eric Kessler do, and he believes that the numbers who are getting rid of cable are "minimal" and representative of temporary "macroeconomic" conditions that will go away pretty soon, rather than being the first sign of an inevitable growing mass realization that it doesn't make sense to keep paying for expensive, filler-laden cable packages when there are increasingly better options for getting the precise content that they want, when they want it, for less money. Ironically for a show so concerned with "winter is coming" doomsaying and three-steps-ahead political maneuvering, the network it airs on remains blithely ignorant.
Though, as Forbes' Eric Kain points out in this follow-up piece, it may just be that HBO is reluctant to deal with the mess and cost of creating a standalone HBO Go separate from its contracts with cable companies. But until it's willing to take that risk and invest in the inevitable future, we're pretty sure that, despite what Kessler thinks, it's not the economy, stupid.