English: Logo from the television program Game...

Game of Thrones returns to TV (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Game of Thrones season 4 premiere saw the smash show return to HBO over the weekend, with all the buzz and blight that we’ve come to expect from the digital era.

On the one hand, social media went crazy for the occasion, helping fans to share their anticipation ahead of Sunday night’s first airing and exchange opinions as it got underway. On the other, the buzz drove a huge surge in torrent activity to guide some people to illegal viewing options. The most pirated TV show of 2013, it already looks like Game of Thrones season 4 will compete for that dubious honor again this year.

Even a simple Google search (below) shows the polarizing feelings that the show’s success must bring for its creators. The initial disappointment at seeing torrent suggestions via the search engine’s ‘Autocomplete’ feature is an ongoing thorn in the side of Hollywood, but the results hold a more positive outcome.

Games of Thrones search results

A prominent Amazon ad capitalizes on the interest with a simple price point and link to download previous seasons of Game of Thrones, which demonstrates Google’s ability to promote legal channels to watch. Another positive is that stories and official sites dominate the first page, meaning that less web savvy viewers will be also be presented with legitimate show information, not led unwittingly down a path to pirate versions.

Unfortunately the news results, which are equally dominant due to the huge interest in the premiere, are partially populated with articles that suggest pirate alternatives. Combined with social media trending topics being infiltrated by pirate links, Game of Thrones season 4 has already broken individual piracy records within 24 hours of airing. Even with all of the illegal access points, interest in the legal ones was enough to crash HBO’s GO service last night, prompting this diverting tweet from the company to pacify excited fans:

Despite extraordinary exploitation by pirates, Game of Thrones can clearly generate enough excitement to bring in major revenue for its creators and continue the series’ success. These blockbuster shows tell only a small part of the story, however, and we must remember that a smaller show facing the same piracy challenges could struggle to overcome the lost revenue that illegal viewing denies them.

And let’s not forget that any support for pirate sites, even for big shows that are making money, helps these illegal resources to profit, encouraging them to facilitate the theft of less established creators. We all have a part to play in encouraging creators to make the next big show (and the one after that), so choose wisely when you search for a way to view Game of Thrones season 4 this week!

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