Late last night, the first four episodes of Game of Thrones season 5 leaked online. The timing couldn’t be worse: The season premiere is airing tonight, and the next three episodes will be officially shown over the next three weeks.
The leak was first spotted by Reddit user sssteven in the Game of Thrones subreddit, as the episodes showed up on private torrent tracker IPT before they made their way to major sites like The Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents. He warned fans of spoilers — which is arguably HBO’s biggest problem with this leak: It doesn’t just affect pirates.
Viewers who normally watch the show on HBO will have to decide if they want to spend a month trying to dodge spoilers in person and online. Many will simply cave and watch the episodes through non-HBO channels, even though the episodes apparently only leaked in 480p.
An episode being pirated after it airs is the norm. An episode leaking a few hours before is not ideal, but it happens. But four episodes leaking more than 24 hours before the season even starts? It’s a disaster.
Game of Thrones has been the most pirated TV show for three years now. This weekend’s leak is quite unfortunate because HBO went out of its way to offer the fifth season in over 170 countries simultaneously. In other words, the television network made a big effort to remove a major reason for piracy: Viewers around the world were told they wouldn’t have to wait weeks or even months to see the same content their American counterparts get immediately.
Having said all that, it turns out HBO could have avoided this particular leak. “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,” HBO said in a statement. “We’re actively assessing how this breach occurred.”
So despite its plans to give everyone the season at the same time, HBO still gave out early screeners (review copies) to the press. That’s a move pirates will always try to capitalize on.
As a result, HBO’s hands are now tied. The best solution would be to immediately offer the four episodes in higher quality on HBO Now. Unfortunately, that’s still an unthinkable move for a major TV network.