HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ Web Debut Mostly Smooth After Shows Leak

How Much of a Threat Are Video Pirates to HBO?

The online debut of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” went off without major incident Sunday night, though some Sling TV customers encountered streaming delays.

The season-five premiere of the hit swords-and-dragons series posed a test for HBO Now, the Web-only product from Time Warner Inc.’s cable-TV channel, and for distributors Apple Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp. and Dish Network Corp.’s Sling TV. They’re offering HBO’s $15-a-month package outside of a traditional cable-TV bundle for the first time.

Sling TV, which suffered outages earlier this month during the NCAA college basketball tournament, said some users watching on Roku Inc. devices had trouble getting “Game of Thrones” to load. The company said problems were “drastically reduced” this time after it updated its software.

“Any stumbles tonight? A few,” Roger Lynch, chief executive officer of Sling TV, said in a blog post. He said the company was “actively addressing the issue.” Service improved once HBO’s next show came on, “Silicon Valley.”

A larger problem for HBO surfaced hours before the “Game of Thrones” premiere, when four episodes of the new season leaked online. They were downloaded more than 100,000 times to sites including The Pirate Bay, according to TorrentFreak, a website that covers piracy, making the show available for free to the same young viewers HBO Now is trying to reach.

The leak appears to have originated from copies of “Game of Thrones” sent out to recipients approved by HBO, according to Jeff Cusson, a spokesman for the network in New York. HBO sent out copies to media outlets ahead of the new season.

“We’re actively assessing how this breach occurred,” Cusson said.

Piracy is a problem that predates the Web-only product. “Game of Thrones” ranks as one of the world’s most-pirated shows, according to TorrentFreak.

All of the leaked copies are in standard definition, said Dan Rayburn, who runs the StreamingMedia blog. Most viewers would still rather see an effects-laden show like “Game of Thrones” on a big screen and in high definition, he said.

“The leak will impact some viewers, but just how many we have no way to know,” Rayburn said. “Many want to see it in better quality.”

The episode, which aired at 9 p.m. New York time on Sunday, picked up just after the murder of patriarch Tywin Lannister.

“Game of Thrones” has gained such a cult following since it began airing in 2011 that a filming site on Croatia’s southern coast is attracting visitors.

HBO won’t release TV ratings until later in the week. The premiere of season four drew 6.6 million live viewers, and millions more in encore airings.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE