The last few years haven't been great for Game of Thrones' secrecy, starting with the 2015 leak that saw the first four episodes of the fifth season leak to torrent sites. HBO had been concerned about what the leak would mean for its business, and according to new research it wasn't good. Apparently that leak helped breed a new generation of pirates, and the effects didn't just impact Game of Thrones.
The episodes themselves came from a review screener, and at the time it was estimated that they were downloaded 32 million times in the first week. While the official broadcast ending up breaking records (something that would happen again after the 2017 leaks), a paper published by economy researcher Wojciech Hardy at the Institute for Structural Research and the University of Warsaw doesn't paint a picture HBO and the rest of Hollywood are going to like.
The paper claims that the early leak led more people to turn to pirating TV beyond those four episodes, leading to a decrease in viewership for both Game of Thrones and similar TV shows. The idea is that the leak was a catalyst for people who hadn't pirated before, but once they were introduced to the concept (and presumably figured out how easy it is) they continued obtaining further episodes without paying to access them legally. Hardy told TorrentFreak:
“The general conclusion is that the leak provided a strong incentive for some of the viewers to look for unauthorised sources for TV shows and that, in consequence, some of them started watching TV shows through unauthorised channels in general."
The research itself used a variety of US TV viewing numbers, along with Google search data that showed Game of Thrones wasn't the only thing affected.
“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."
Despite this the numbers also showed that TV shows eventually recovered, albeit slowly. It's speculated that this could be down to so-called 'promotional piracy' where people become aware of new shows thanks to piracy, and start consuming them via legitimate sources as a result.
The point of Hardy's research is to show that events that are relatively small in the grand scheme of things can have long term effects, like leaks. Every time a single person stops paying for their content the rightsholder loses money, which is why the entertainment industry has been fighting so hard against piracy for so long. [TorrentFreak]