Pay-TV operator Foxtel has defended its exclusive deal to broadcast the highly anticipated new season of fantasy blockbuster Game of Thrones, saying it was showing the program quickly and affordably, and it hoped most people would "do the right thing" by not downloading it.
The exclusive deal has angered many local fans who were able to watch previous series through iTunes, Quickflix and Google Play but must now wait until Foxtel stops airing the series and buy it in full.
Foxtel's broadcast of the first episode of season four was watched by 315,000 viewers, a good result but leading to suggestions that many Australian fans were downloading the program.
Dragon Queen: Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones.
In the US, the average audience was 8.2 million viewers with repeats, with Torrent Freak reporting more than one million downloads. Game of Thrones has been the world's most pirated show for two years running, according to file-sharing network TorrentFreak. Per capita, Australians are among the biggest pirates.
Foxtel spokesman Bruce Meagher said Foxtel had done its best by broadcasting the show as quickly as possible, at a reasonable price. In February, Foxtel extended an olive branch to the show's fans by adding the HBO show to its online streaming service, Foxtel Play. The $35 monthly price for Foxtel Play rises to $50 a month after three months.
Mr Meagher said there had been an increase in subscriptions to Foxtel Play over the past fortnight in anticipation of the broadcast, and on news that the PlayStation3 was another way to watch Foxtel Play.
He declined to say how much extra the company paid for exclusive rights to the "global phenomenon", or how many extra people had subscribed recently.
"[But] Obviously programs like this with a big halo effect are really valuable to us," he said.
"People attack our business model [of bundling] ... while there will always be people who say, 'We'd like to get this bespoke', $35 a month is not a huge amount of money."
"Yes, there is a price-tag ... but HBO has to be remunerated. At about $7 million an episode, dragons don't come cheap."
He said some people are going to illegally download, "no matter what".
"We're not so naive to think that we can ever eradicate piracy. We can never stop that. But if we give content at reasonable prices, quickly, in a way that is convenient, hopefully most people will do the right thing."
Foxtel is owned by News Corp and Telstra and has about 2.5 million subscribers. ABC managing director Mark Scott noted in a speech last week that despite Foxtel's stalled subscription numbers - about 30 per cent of households - it makes more than all the commercial networks combined.
But Foxtel, like all TV companies, is under pressure from the rise of digital and viewer demand for free or cheap content on demand.
Quickflix executive chairman and chief executive Stephen Langsford said the viewer numbers were "great news" and he looked forward to screening series four around June.
"We're still seeing lots of demand for series one, two and three," he said, tipping Game of Thrones would still be popular 12 months from now.
About 30 per cent of Quickflix's TV series viewing was Game of Thrones, he said. Quickflix has yet to release its March quarter numbers, but had more than 120,000 customers in the December quarter.