Game of Thrones is broadcast by HBO in the United States and by its local subsidiaries or other pay television services in other countries, at the same time as in the U.S. or weeks (or months) later. The series’ broadcast in China on CCTV, begun in 2014, was heavily edited to remove scenes of sex and violence in accordance with a Chinese practice of censoring Western TV series to prevent what the People’s Daily calls “negative effects and hidden security dangers”. This resulted in viewer complaints about the incoherence of what remained. Broadcasters carrying Game of Thrones include Showcase in Australia; HBO Canada, Super Écran and Showcase in Canada; HBO Latin America in Latin America; SoHo and Prime in New Zealand, and Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The ten episodes of the first season of Game of Thrones were released as a DVD and Blu-ray box set on March 6, 2012. The box set includes extra background and behind-the-scenes material but no deleted scenes, since nearly all the footage shot for the first season was used in the show. The box set sold over 350,000 copies in the first week after release, the largest first-week DVD sales ever for an HBO series, and the series set an HBO-series record for digital-download sales. A collector’s-edition box set was released in November 2012, combining the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the first season with the first episode of season two. A paperweight in the shape of a dragon egg is included in the set.
DVD-Blu-ray box sets and digital downloads of the second season became available on February 19, 2013. First-day sales broke HBO records, with 241,000 box sets sold and 355,000 episodes downloaded. The third season was made available for purchase as a digital download on the Australian iTunes Store, parallel to the U.S. premiere, and was released on DVD and Blu-ray in region 1 on February 18, 2014. The fourth season was released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 17, 2015, and the fifth season on March 15, 2016. The sixth season was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 15, 2016. Beginning in 2016, HBO began issuing Steelbook Blu-ray sets which include both Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and Dolby Atmos audio options.
Game of Thrones has been widely pirated, primarily outside the U.S. According to the file-sharing news website TorrentFreak, Game of Thrones has been the most-pirated TV series each year since 2012. Illegal downloads increased to about seven million in the first quarter of 2015, up 45 percent from 2014. An unnamed episode was downloaded about 4,280,000 times through public BitTorrent trackers in 2012, roughly equal to its number of broadcast viewers. Piracy rates were particularly high in Australia, and U.S. Ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich issued a statement condemning Australian piracy of the series in 2013.
Delays in availability apart from HBO and its affiliates before 2015 and the cost of subscriptions to these services have been cited as causes of the series’ illegal distribution. According to TorrentFreak, a subscription to a service for Game of Thrones would cost up to $25 per month in the United States, up to £26 per episode in the UK and up to $52 per episode in Australia.
For “combating piracy”, HBO said in 2013 that it intended to make its content more widely available within a week of the U.S. premiere (including HBO Go). In 2015, the fifth season was simulcast to 170 countries and to HBO Now users. On April 11, the day before the season premiere, screener copies of the first four episodes of the fifth season leaked to a number of file-sharing websites. Within a day of the leak, the files were downloaded over 800,000 times; in one week the illegal downloads reached 32 million, with the season-five premiere alone (“The Wars to Come”) pirated 13 million times. The season-five finale (“Mother’s Mercy”) was the most simultaneously shared file in the history of the BitTorrent filesharing protocol, with over 250,000 simultaneous sharers and over 1.5 million downloads in eight hours. For the sixth season, HBO did not send screeners to the press, so as to prevent the spread of unlicensed copies and possible spoilers.
Observers, including series director David Petrarca and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, said that illegal downloads did not hurt the series’ prospects; it benefited from “buzz” and social commentary, and the high piracy rate did not significantly translate to lost subscriptions. According to Polygon, HBO’s relaxed attitude towards piracy and the sharing of login credentials amounted to a premium-television “free-to-play” model. At a 2015 Oxford Union debate, series co-creator David Benioff said that he was just glad that people watched the show; illegally downloaded copies of the show sometimes interested viewers enough to buy a copy of the show, especially in countries where the show was not televised. Co-creator D. B. Weiss had mixed feelings, saying that the show was expensive to produce and “if it doesn’t make the money back, then it ceases to exist”. However, he was pleased that so many people “enjoy the show so much they can’t wait to get their hands on it.” In 2015, Guinness World Records called Game of Thrones the most-pirated television program.