Game of Thrones was potentially the most pirated show of 2012, but Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes thinks that downloading could be as good as one of the most coveted awards in television. On an earnings call this week, Bewkes was asked whether he condoned copyright infringement of Game of Thrones, which is produced by Time Warner subsidiary HBO. Bewkes first talked up the show's ratings, which he credited with strengthening HBO's brand. But he said that piracy was "a tremendous word-of-mouth thing" as well. "If you go around the world, I think you're right, that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world," he said. "Now that's better than an Emmy."

The show's director, David Petrarca, has expressed similar feelings: before the third season launched earlier this year, he said piracy contributed to the show's "cultural buzz." Author George R.R. Martin also called it a "compliment," though he said it was one he'd rather not receive. Bewkes' nigh-celebration of piracy, however, was unusually strong — even if it alluded to ideas that people outside the entertainment industry have been promoting for years.

Piracy would be a larger problem, he said, if people who might subscribe to HBO were just downloading episodes for free — but "we don't see much of that." He compared it, instead, to cable splitting. "People have always been running wires down the back of apartment buildings and sharing with their neighbors," he said. "Our experience is, it all leads to more penetration, more paying subs and more health for HBO."

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