Technology hero
13 April 2014

Across the Narrow Sea

The last season final episode of Game of Thrones was the most downloaded TV show ever according to statistics compiled by the site TorrentFreak.

This week in our series about access to media in New Zealand (that just happens to coincide with season 4 of Game of Thrones) we take a look at our neighbours in Australia.

Australia is an interesting case. Last week I mentioned the Australians had been able to buy Game of Thrones on iTunes and Quickflix a day after it was broadcast. This made it one of the few countries where you could buy the show digitally.

In the statistics compiled by the site TorrentFreak, which monitors torrent file downloads, last season’s final episode of Game of Thrones was the most downloaded TV show ever. This season’s premiere obliterated that record. Episode 1 of season 4, Two Swords, was downloaded more than a million times in one day and at one point was being shared by 300,000 people simultaneously. (Bit torrent is the peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol most people use to download media, both legal and illegal.)

"Unfortunately, nearly as epic and devious as the drama is its unprecedented theft by online viewers around the world," wrote US ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, on his official Facebook page back in 2013. "As the ambassador here in Australia, it was especially troubling to find out that Australian fans were some of the worst offenders with among the highest piracy rates of Game of Thrones in the world… If the 4 million people who watched Game of Thrones legally had been illegal downloaders – the show would be off the air and there would never have been a season 3."

While that may sadly be the case, Bleich blithely ignores the other side of the argument. If HBO or Foxtel had been able to sell the show for just $1 to even half of those downloaders then they would’ve made a lot more money.

Game of Thrones’ popularity in Australia and the public statistics about downloading trends was one of the main reasons that the show was made available for sale on Quickflix and iTunes. And the new torrenting record seems to suggest that the decision to remove the show from those sites for season 4 has created a higher demand for the illegal downloads.

The reason why Australians now have to fork over huge sums of money to Foxtel in order to watch Game of Thrones (though not as much as New Zealanders have to pay to Sky), is that HBO and Foxtel have signed an exclusive deal for all remaining seasons of the show. This deal shows that HBO is investing in an archaic business model, one that cuts out a huge potential audience.

Last week it was announced that Game of Thrones was renewed for at least 2 more seasons. So Australians will have 2 more years of living with 3 options: paying large amounts of money to Foxtel; waiting for the end of the season and hoping it’ll be available on iTunes (and to have missed all the spoilers); or, find another, less legitimate, download source.

The comparison between the TV selection on iTunes in Australia and New Zealand is telling. From the screen shot you can see that Australians have a good selection of shows (including the first 3 seasons of Game of Thrones).

There is no screenshot for New Zealand because in New Zealand you cannot buy TV shows through iTunes (and the selection on Quickflix is frankly terrible, unless you want to watch very old BBC shows).

We may not have shown up in TorrentFreak’s statistics but many Kiwis have downloaded the TV they want. Game of Thrones isn’t the only TV show out there and next week we’ll talk about why New Zealanders download TV shows.


Just before we published this blog the latest Game of Thrones episode aired in the US. As it did a large number of messages filled Twitter:

This one, by actress Felicia Day, was typical of many of them. Nearly all warned people to stay off social media until you’d seen the episode. For New Zealanders not willing to pay Sky TV $25/per episode nor wanting to illegally download a copy, that could be months away.

About the author:

Hadyn Green is a geek. He loves shiny new tech and the chance to try to break it. Because it's the kind of thing people ask, here is the tech Hadyn currently uses. Phone: iPhone 5s Tablet: iPad Air. Music player: Spotify. Headphones: Sony MDR-G55 (for walking because I hate earbuds) and Beats Studio noise-cancelling (for sitting at my desk and tuning out the world). E-Reader: Kindle Touch. Gaming: PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360. Internet Service Provider: Snap.

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