Actor Dean-Charles Chapman at the Game of Thrones season 5 premiere. (Source: Getty)
The majority of "Game of Thrones" fans in the UK are gearing up for the return of their favourite fantasy programme to TV screens tonight, but thousands will have already seen the first episodes of the series’ fifth season following a massive leak.
The first four episodes have been illegally downloaded well over a million times since they appeared online this Sunday.
They have become the most-pirated episodes in the world globally with filesharing monitor Torrent Freak calculating that British users in the UK responsible for around 9.8 per cent of those downloads based on a snapshot of IP addresses.
Episode one of the new season based on George R.R Martin’s A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons novels was broadcast on HBO last night, but UK fans have been asked to be more patient by broadcaster Sky Atlantic who declined to take part in a simulcast. The channel will broadcast the episode at 9pm tonight.
Battling online piracy is an ongoing fight for UK broadcasters with US content - especially given the cult mania around "Game of Thrones".The HBO show was the most pirated TV show in 2014 with 48.4m illegal torrents, according to data from privacy tracking firm Excipio. "Game of Thrones" held the same ignominious title in 2013 and 2012.
Yet with 18.4m viewers across all of its platforms so far, "Game of Thrones" has surpassed "The Sopranos" and The Wire as HBO’s most-popular show yet.
Figures also show that it has attracted an increasing number of people willing to pay to watch. The first season’s premiere in 2011 drew 2.2m viewers - a figure that rose to 6.6m for last year’s season four debut.
DVD sales also remain strong, with the season four box set topping charts and creating new records for HBO.