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The incredibly popular HBO series Game of Thrones is a fascinating case study. Not only in terms of constructing and maintaining dramatic tension in a TV series, but also in how not to distribute content.

It’s proof that content distribution needs a new model. The show has become not only one of the most successful series aired on the US subscription network, but more notably, it is the most pirated TV show of all time.

Moments after each episode screened on HBO in the US, record numbers of people were downloading the program on torrent sites. It averaged around 3m downloads per episode, a high proportion of them in Australia.

Aussies with cable could have watched the program legally, but not until a week later. What this means for fans of the show is a week of trying not to talk to anyone who watched, or visit most of the internet lest they happen upon a plot spoiler. My colleague’s viewing pleasure was ruined when he saw a YouTube death montage, including a pivotal scene in an episode he was yet to watch.

For non-cable subscribers uncomfortable with pirating, it means the show is something they’re now, given declining DVD sales, less likely to see. We know 3m downloaded the show illegally; what we don’t know is how many people heard about it, tried to access it legally, failed and gave up. Turn this on its head and what you get is simultaneous global talk around a piece of content which allows viewers to become the marketing channel.

There are plenty of channels to distribute content legally that allow producers to make more money and reach the largest possible audience. The consequences are clear: if you don’t give the people what they want, when they want it, they’ll circumvent legal channels and access it through other means – or never watch it at all.

This piece first appeared on Encore and Mumbrella.

Image credit mcnealy 

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