HBO's medieval fantasy drama "Game of Thrones" has gained a cult-like following since first airing four years ago, and now the network is paying a price for that popularity.
"Game of Thrones" is already the most pirated television show in 2015, research shows, as new episodes were leaked over the weekend ahead of Sunday's official fifth season debut.
Episodes from the first four seasons of "Game of Thrones" were downloaded over 7 million times worldwide from February 5 through April 6 this year, anti-piracy firm Irdeto said on Friday - a 45 percent increase from 2014.
Irdeto's findings come as the first four episodes from the show's new season emerged on BitTorrent sites Saturday. Within a 24-hour period, the episodes were downloaded well over a million times worldwide, according to several media reports. The leak deals a blow to HBO's plan to simultaneously broadcast the first episode across 170 countries on Sunday evening Eastern time.
In a statement, HBO said the leaked episodes originated from a group approved to receive them, adding that it's actively assessing how the breach occurred.