“Our experience is [piracy] leads to more penetration, more paying subs, more health for HBO, less reliance on having to do paid advertising… If you go around the world, I think you’re right, Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. Well, you know, that’s better than an Emmy.”
Interestingly, the thesis seems to be that more exposure means more financial success, even where the exposure itself is not the exposure that the content creator intended.
It’s not immediately obvious from where the copies originated, though initial suspicion seems to centre on the copies having been leaked by some unknown reviewer. Reviewers received the first four episodes in advance of the season premier.
Interestingly, the unknown source is not a difficult problem to sort-of solve* in advance of distributing the copies. Steganography could be used to embed a symmetrically encrypted fingerprint (a secret value unique to each episode-reviewer 2-tuple) in each copy given out.
*Note: I said “sort-of” solve the problem. A reviewer could just re-encode the copy to muddle or strip the fingerprint. However, assume that reviewers were given digital copies (as opposed to physical copies that must be re-encoded before they can be distributed). In this case, I theorize that most people wouldn’t bother to re-encode the copy before leaking it (human nature being what it is — path of least resistance, and all that).