Game of Thrones season six: Australia tops world in illegal downloads

The first episode of Game of Thrones’ sixth season has become the most-watched program in the history of pay television in Australia – but that’s not the only record it broke after premiering on Monday.

According to the BitTorrent news blog TorrentFreak, Australia was responsible for 12.5% of all illegal downloads of the episode within 12 hours of its broadcast in the US Monday.

Broken down by country, Australia was the top offender, with India coming second with 9.7%, followed by the US with 8.5% and the UK with 6.9%.

Almost half of those who illegally downloaded the show chose to do so in high-definition resolution, bandwidth be damned – a new trend among pirates, said TorrentFreak.

These figures were reached from a sample of 10,000 downloaders over a 12-hour period, and as such the data is skewed owing to time differences. It also does not take into account other forms of piracy than BitTorrent, such as streaming and direct download sites. But as of Tuesday morning over 200,000 BitTorrent users – and rising – were still actively sharing copies of the episode.

Monday’s episode did not beat the record set last year by the season five finale of Game of Thrones, which attracted 1.5m illegal downloads in its first eight hours, and eventually set a BitTorrent record of 14.4m downloads.

The season six premiere screened in Australia on pay-TV service Foxtel at 11am – the same time as it screened overseas on Monday – but this didn’t stem the rush to download it.

“It may simply be that Australians really, really don’t want to pay for Foxtel,” remarked Vincent Varney of Pages Digital of Australia’s “impressive numbers”. HBO was made available for free in the US at the weekend, which may have helped to stem some piracy there.

The episode, aired on Foxtel’s Showcase channel, also broke records in Australia for the most-watched program in Australian subscription television history.

It achieved a total paying audience of 727,000 – 31% larger than that for Game of Thrones’ season five finale, and topping the record previously held by Fox Sports for the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final between Australia and New Zealand.

Brian Walsh, executive director of television at Foxtel, said the “phenomenal” result defied the network’s expectations, even before catch-up viewing from the Foxtel iQ had been taken into account.

“When you include those figures, as well as encores across the week, we’re forecasting the first episode will absolutely top over one million viewers.”

Game of Thrones season six will screen on Showcase on Mondays at 11am AEST, the same time as it broadcasts in the US, with a primetime encore at 7.30pm.

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