Game of Thrones: is leak bad news for networks and fans?

Four episodes of Game of Thrones series five leaked online – why fans shouldn't watch them

Game of Thrones leading man Kit Harrington

The first four episodes of Game of Thrones season five have been leaked online, prompting delight from some fans as well as speculation about the viability of the subscription television model.

The Daily Telegraph reports the leaked episodes of the HBO series, which are available on several file-sharing websites, appear to have been copied from press preview DVDs. Advance press copies contain digital watermarks, but these have reportedly been blurred out on the leaked versions now circulating online.

HBO has yet to comment on the pirated episodes, which were apparently downloaded at least 800,000 times within a day of becoming available. Game of Thrones has already been credited as the most-pirated show on the internet for three years in a row.

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The BBC reports that post-production producer Greg Spence had earlier admitted he was worried about potential leaks. In an interview last week with The Denver Post, he said: "Artists are working in special-effects houses all over the world. The files are watermarked, and editors have to confirm in writing that they've deleted them."

But the leak seemed like good news for many fans who used Twitter to express their delight. One wrote: "First 4 episodes of Game of Thrones leaked... Is this what happiness feels like...!" Another tweeted: "Unsettled by how happy the game of thrones leak made me..."

Some, however, were worried that the leak would be a distraction. "Four chapters of philosophy to study and four episodes of Game of Thrones to watch," one tweeted. "What are priorities really?"

Meanwhile, commentators speculated on what this latest leak meant for the future of subscription television channels. The Sydney Morning Herald's Michael Idato said that digital pirating "exposes the weakness of drip TV" model. "In some respects this is also a lesson in the risks of exerting too much control in a market which is now too large and too hungry to be drip fed on a weekly basis," says Idato.

He adds that, if Netflix had owned the series, it would have launched the entire season at once, viewable on demand, though Idato admits Netflix is not immune to such "catastrophic glitches".

A month ago, Netflix's content management system accidentally sent the entire third season of House of Cards live a month early.

But the leak has particular significance for HBO, which has just launched its cable-free, stand-alone streaming service – and Netflix competitor – Now. With almost half of the new series already leaked, "will it turn off potential Now subscribers?" asks Erik Kain in Forbes. "That seems like a real possibility, at least for the month it rolls out."

But there will be many viewers who would never think to download episodes illegally, says Kain. Besides, he adds: "Do you really want to spoil the show weeks in advance? Isn't it a bit like opening Christmas presents the week before Christmas?”

“Ultimately, the greatest weapon in the fight against such hacks might be people,” says Joseph Steinberg, also in Forbes. "It's going to be hard for people who normally talk about Game of Thrones with other fans, and who watched the four stolen episodes, not to discuss the plot."

Tell them you don't want spoilers, adds Steinberg, and while you're at it, encourage them not to download in future.

Game of Thrones airs in the US on Sunday nights and in the UK on Sky Atlantic from Monday, April 13, at 9pm.

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