Data Visualization: Game of Thrones the most pirated TV show

By Eshan Wickrema and Lachlan James

So what was the most bootlegged television show of 2014? Chances are, if you’re a Game of Thrones (GoT) fan, you’ll know the answer…

Game of Thrones: The most pirated TV shows of 2014 (finale episode)

Using Business Intelligence and data visualization, we can clearly see that HBO’s instant cult classic, GoT, was the most-pirated television show of last year, according to official BitTorrent downloads.


  • The GoT season four finale episode had the most estimated BitTorrent downloads for a final episode of any television series in 2014 (8.1 million)
  • GoT was so popular that it had almost twice the number of BitTorrent downloads compared to the next most prevalent show, The Walking Dead (4.8 million downloads)
  • GoT has taken the crown of most downloaded TV-show for the third consecutive year

GoT fans couldn’t get enough of the finale
Assessing the above list of BitTorrent’s most downloaded television shows worldwide in 2014 (for a single episode) – as reported by TorrentFreak, it’s clear that GoT fans have a penchant for pirating. With an estimated 8.1 million downloads via BitTorrent, the 2014 GoT season finale outstripped its closest rival, The Walking Dead (4.8 million), by 3.3 million downloads. And this is just one episode, from one source (BitTorrent). Just imagine the number of illegal downloads, from all online sources, throughout the shows four seasons to date!

The GoT season four finale also set another all-time television show piracy record. According to analysis of Torrent downloads, courtesy of TorrentFreak, the new illegal downloads benchmark was reached when over a quarter of one million Torrent users (254,114) simultaneously shared 2014’s last episode. This frenzy created the “largest BitTorrent ‘swarm’ ever”, meaning that “never before have so many people gathered to share a single file on the Internet”. Maybe a touch predictably, the previous record also belonged to GoT, with just over 200,000 Torrent users sharing a single episode simultaneously. So what are the reasons underpinning pirated downloading of GoT?

Factors driving illegal Game of Thrones downloads
Interestingly, in the countries where BitTorrent downloads of GoT are most popular – Australia, the US, the UK, Canada and the Netherlands – viewers do have the ability to access the show legally. So what’s driving demand for illegal downloads?

Essentially, it boils down to cost – and immediacy of viewing for countries outside the US.

To view via legitimate channels, Australian fans would have to sign-up for a Foxtel subscription worth around $75 AUD per month. While UK viewers can watch GoT in sync with the ‘live’ US broadcast, via Sky Atlantic, they pay £21.50 per month in subscription fees for the privilege. In Canada, fans need a satellite television subscription and an additional add-on package, coming in at around $60 CAD per month. Like the UK, the Netherlands also offer reasonably accessible channels by which fans can lawfully access GoT. The Dutch can view GoT via American’s HBO, which can be added to a standard cable subscription (10 Euros) for about 15 Euros per month (25 Euros total cost ($35 USD)).

Even in the US, an appropriate HBO subscription will costs anywhere between $15 and $25 USD per month.

So, do these GoT accessibility limitations, ‘forcing’ people to watch the show via illegitimate means, negatively impact the perception of the show?

Highest rated HBO shows of all time

Based on real-time votes taken from during the publishing process of this post, it seems that GoT fans have few misgivings about the expense or methods of accessing the show.


  • GoT fans have voted it “the best HBO TV show” of all time (1,764 votes)
  • GoT surpassed HBO’s long-time leader The Sopranos (989 votes) by 775 votes
  • The only other HBO TV series to surpass The Sopranos (1999-2007) in popularity was True Detective – a distant second to GoT with 1,087 votes

How will history judge HBO’s Game of Thrones?
Despite GoT currently being voted the best HBO series of all time on, it will be fascinating to witness how history judges the series.

HBO has been responsible for many memorable series that have maintained popularity long after the final ever episode aired. The Sopranos is a primary case in point. Until the fourth season of GoT finished, The Sopranos held the official record for the highest average gross audience for any TV series (18.2 million during the 2002 season). GoT surpassed this benchmark in its fourth season, averaging a gross audience of 18.4 million.

So, the real question is: Will GoT stand the test of time? Will the HBO aficionados still consider GoT to be just as good eight years after it finishes airing – like The Sopranos?

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