HBO: 'Game of Thrones' piracy is a compliment

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How does HBO feel about having the most pirated show on TV?

Not too bad, apparently.

HBO programming president Michael Lombardo spoke to EW about the rampant illegal downloading of the network’s fantasy hit drama Game of Thrones, which returns for its third season tonight.

The show’s second season was recently released to record-setting DVD sales for the network. But in December, Thrones topped another chart that is far more dubious — Thrones ranked as the most illegally downloaded TV series for 2012. “I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts,” Lombardo said. “The demand is there. And it certainly didn’t negatively impact the DVD sales. [Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network.”

The show is currently, on a per-season basis, the network’s top money-earner despite widespread piracy of the show, the executive confirmed. “If you look at aggregate of international and DVD sales — which are the two revenue streams we look at since we’re not selling it domestically on another platform — yes, absolutely, in terms of shows we have on now,” Lombardo said.

In fact, one of Lombardo’s issues with piracy is a creative one. The executive expressed concern that illegal copies can be of poor quality when the Thrones team takes pride in lavishly producing the show. “One of my worries is about the copies [downloaders are] seeing,” Lombardo said. “The production values of this show are so incredible. So I’m hoping that in the purloined different generation of cuts that the show is holding up.”

Still, Lombardo noted that HBO’s policy remains firmly anti-piracy — “We obviously are a subscription service so as a general proposition so we try to stop piracy when we see it happen, particularly on a systematic basis when people are selling pirated versions,” he said. But he also added, perhaps referring to casual individual-user downloading, “No, we haven’t sent out the Game of Thrones police.”

According to one estimate, Thrones‘ second season finale was illegally downloaded 4.3 million times worldwide last year. That’s quite a large number considering the show averages around 10 million viewers across all HBO platforms.

Heavy Thrones piracy is likely due to several factors, such as the popularity of the show among young men (the show skews 58 percent male and the average fan is 41 years old) and HBO’s current digital distribution strategy. Though HBO subscribers can watch Thrones online via the network’s HBO GO service, you can only subscribe to HBO in the first place through a traditional cable or satellite provider and many younger TV fans are opting to “cut the cord.” A top HBO executive recently hinted that the network is contemplating a digital-only subscription option, a move that would likely reduce the amount of piracy of its shows.

UPDATE: ‘Game of Thrones’ season 3 premiere recap is now live

17 DAYS OF THRONES COUNTDOWN!

16. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers Q&A: Why season 3 is the most epic yet
15. Lena Headey on Cersei’s season 3 fears
14. How Kit Harington conquered his injury to keep Jon Snow fighting
13: Gwendoline Christie on being ‘too pretty’ to play Brienne
12. John Bradley defends fantasy fans
11. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers on casting Mance Rayder, Lady Olenna
10. Sophie Turner on fans bashing Sansa

9. Jack Gleeson on Joffrey’s season 3 romance
8
. Maisie Williams talks Arya’s season 3 adventures
7. Peter Dinklage on Tyrion’s season 3 survival
6. Richard Madden teases Robb Stark’s season 3
5. Emilia Clarke says Dany gets fast-paced season 3
4. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau talks Jaime’s season 3 struggle
3. Rose Leslie: You know nothing about Ygritte’s catchphrase
2. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers on season 3 dragons: They’re not cute anymore
1. EW Cover: ‘Game of Thrones’ wildest season yet! Jon + Dany, an ice and fire pairing

ALSO:
Buy EW’s Game of Thrones cover story issue
EW’s exclusive ‘Thrones’ portraits 

— ‘Game of Thrones': 23 amazing season three photos
Latest S3 trailer

EW rolled out 17 Game of Thrones stories with exclusive and spoiler-free behind-the-scenes content, largely drawn from our Northern Ireland set visit last fall, leading up to the show’s season 3 premiere on March 31. After each episode air we’ll have our popular recaps (catch up on the recaps for the first two seasons here) and interviews. Follow me on Twitter @james_hibberd for Game of Thrones news and bookmark our Thrones hub here.

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