Does Piracy Help Game of Thrones Thrive?


by Craig Wolf

Game of Thrones director David Petrarca doesn’t mind piracy, even when it’s happening  to his own show. Aside from a wild success for HBO, Game of Thrones was also the most pirated show of 2012, according to TorrentFreak.  A single episode from the show’s second season was illegally downloaded  about 4.2 million times, roughly the same number of people who watched  the show legally on HBO.

Despite the statistics, Petrarca shrugs off the numbers, even celebrates  them. During an appearance at the Perth Writers Festival in Australia,  the director told an audience he believed the illegal downloads didn’t  matter because it generated a “cultural buzz” and created  commentary among those who watch the show, according to the Sydney Morning  Herald. His comments at the festival created a media backlash across  the Internet and forced Petrarca to clarify his original remarks.

He told the Sydney Morning Herald he was completely against people illegally  downloading anything because nobody wins by illegally downloading content.  Petrarca’s attempt to clear the air seems to contradict his original  statement and vindicates the Game of Thrones community’s craving for  better access to the show they love.

HBO’s Restrictions

In 2010, HBO launched its on-demand streaming service, HBO Go. It features  the network’s TV series, both past and present, as well as movies that  air on the premium channel. Its structure is similar to other streaming  sites like Netflix or Hulu Plus, but requires a subscription to HBO  for access. That means non-cable subscribers don’t have access to a  stand-alone HBO Go option. A typical basic satellite TV package starts  around $30 per month with the option to pay more for premium networks  like HBO. Most online streaming companies offer their services for $10  per month.

Cultural Buzz

So what’s this “cultural buzz” Petrarca was talking about?  On its own, Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows on cable today. According to Hollywood  Reporter, each episode of season two averaged 10.3 million gross viewers  in 2012. Combine that with the news of mass piracy and you have a show  that’s just as popular for its numbers as it is for its content, and  those who want access to “Game of Thrones” outside the cable/satellite  bubble are making themselves heard.

Fan-made sites like “Take My Money, HBO!” lobby for the  ability to pay a flat stand-alone rate for HBO Go or even download new  episodes from iTunes by encouraging users to tweet what they would pay  for such a service. Even popular web comic The Oatmeal cartooned about Game of Thrones and resorting  to piracy.

What’s Changing

The unfortunate truth is, not much. In an interview with Wired, an HBO  executive said that the current relationship between HBO and HBO Go  is the one that works best and likely won’t be changing. Fans of  the show can still purchase seasons one and two on hard copy or digital  downloads, but the only way to watch a new episode is on TV of HBO Go  (while also paying for cable or satellite).

    One Comment

  1. PrincipiaMarch 19th, 2013 at 11:51 am

    I’ve never seen actual numbers for how HBO’s less-tight-fisted policies of old affected their bottom line, but I think that at some point HBO’s bean counters have come to the conclusion that if HBO makes its content too readily available, it disincentivizes subscribers, possibly to the point of some subscribers dropping cable altogether.

    While I’m sure HBO could theoretically make some money if they offered Game of Thrones same day or shortly afterwards for sale on iTunes (et al.), or offered online-only subscriptions, they cannot look only at those potential sales. Direct, timely sales of HBO’s original programming would not only risk cannibalizing from their cable-subscriber base, but it would also risk biting the cable hand that feeds. If cable companies were to get cut out of the revenue loop to any significant degree, there’s likely a genuine risk that they’d either vastly reduce the price they’re willing to pay HBO to carry the HBO-plex of channels, or might even stop carrying them altogether.

    HBO’s original programming, while popular to varying degrees, doesn’t make up the bulk of the content they carry. I’m not sure they could sustain (much less grow) their current revenue stream if they had to go online-only, especially since the bulk of their offerings would be in direct competition with existing online players like Netflix, and their show seasons are so short.

    In sum, HBO would love to have your business, but the business they want to get from you and the business you want to give them probably ain’t the same thing, or you’d already be a subscriber.

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