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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

HBO isn’t dying, so they think they’re winning (on the rampant pirating of Game of Thrones)

Game of Thrones

I can’t help but recall that thing that Upton Sinclair said about people not understanding something when their salaries depend on their not understanding it. For I cannot fathom how The New York Times could let this pass without comment:

LAST Sunday afternoon, some friends and I were hanging out in a local bar, talking about what we’d be doing that evening. It turned out that we all had the same plan: to watch the season premiere of “Game of Thrones.” But only one person in our group had a cable television subscription to HBO, where it is shown. The rest of us had a crafty workaround.

“It… seems like a pretty serious problem,” wrote John Herrman, a senior editor at BuzzFeed… “While our office is fairly young and not representative of HBO’s broader customer base, it is representative of a rising generation of people who 1) like watching HBO shows and 2) cannot fathom paying for them.”

I find it hard to believe that anyone working at The New York Times — or at BuzzFeed, for that matter — really believes that people who watch Game of Thrones without paying for an HBO subscription genuinely “cannot fathom paying” for it. Except that HBO is a major advertiser for the Times.

Because the real situation is that many people would pay for Game of Thrones if they could pay for just Game of Thrones. But is any single show worth the price of a cable subscription plus the premium for HBO, each and every month, even when Game of Thrones is not on? No. Of course it isn’t.

(From what I can tell from Time Warner Cable’s absurdly confusing Web site, if you want HBO in New York City, it’s gonna cost you, at a minimum, $66 per month, before taxes. It looks like the basic Sky package in the U.K. includes Sky Atlantic, which airs Game of Thrones; that will set you back £21.50 — about $35 — each month, which probably does include taxes. Cheaper, but still not cheap.)

HBO seems okay with the status quo for now. I get that HBO is afraid of pissing off the cable companies with any move that would legitimize access to popular television without requiring an actual television. But if they don’t figure this out soon, someone else will. The past is littered with companies that were smug and complacent in their current success and were completely blindsided by innovation coming up behind them…



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  • PJK

    Actually, I do pay for Game Of Thrones. By buying the BluRay releases as soon as they appear in the shops. Until that time I’ll watch it in a “creative” manner.

  • Rob

    Same here. I’ve watched it “creatively” each week that it’s aired since the first episode, and have purchased both Blu-ray sets. What many industry people refuse to acknowledge is that, just because someone uses a “creative” method of watching something doesn’t mean they won’t necessarily pay for a copy of it later. This is particularly true for me of US network shows that I plan on re-watching, because I like my “for posterity” copies to be devoid of the annoying advertising pop-ups and channel imprint that mar the picture. And in the case of “Game of Thrones,” I’m willing to pay both for the immense quality of the production and for the highest quality video/audio possible with which to experience it.

  • RogerBW

    If HBO takes a strong anti-piracy stand, it loses the goodwill of the GoT fans – many of whom probably aren’t interested in the other things it has to offer anyway.
    (In the UK, just to make things worse, many shows’ legitimate transmissions are significantly delayed from their US premieres – by anything between a week and a full season. Which, just like international review embargoes, makes no sense any more – I’m not interested in talking about the show on some special UK Delayed Board, I’m going to talk about it with other people who’ve just seen it, all over the world.)
    But actually HBO has an answer to piracy: keep paying the MPAA to sue out of existence anyone who comes up with a faintly innovative business model. That’ll probably work for another few years, which is the longest time horizon anyone bothers to think of these days.

  • I have Comcast triple play, and they wanted $20 or so per month for HBO at the time I signed up. I have little interest in much else they show, so it’s not worth the money.

    I am perfectly willing to pay a “per episode” charge to watch the show in a timely manner. I hate having to wait a year to buy the Blu-ray set. I am just now in the middle of watching season 2.
    Unlike others here, I do not find a way to watch it in a “creative” manner. I just can’t do that.

    I have a very hard time believing many people who watch the show through illegal means also buy the BluRays when they come out. I imagine we have the only 2 people to do that here on this board. ; – )

  • Three :)

  • Ha! Still, I’d like to think (as sad as it may be) that this board is not indicative of the the typical movie or tv watcher. Intellectual discussion and appreciation of shows and movies may seem commonplace on the net, but is really quite rare in actuality. I’ll bet most people thieving it don’t even give it a second thought afterwards. I’d feel all guilty, even if I could alleviate that guilt somewhat a year later.

  • Anne-Kari

    Well I’m obviously one of the people who makes up for at least two of those people who watch ‘creatively’ – Not only do I subscribe to HBO, I also cannot resist buying the blu-rays. So I’m paying for the show twice. You’re welcome, HBO!

    But really, I agree that the obvious solution is to offer individual episodes for purchase, the day of or the day after airing. If they offered them on iTunes right after airing, like so many shows do, they’d make a freakin’ fortune.

  • Isobel_A

    ‘Creative’ watching has led me to pay for a few things on DVD, including Firefly, BSG and Prison Break.

  • Rob
  • In the case of GoT, however, everyone has wised up about this. I can’t remember about the first season, but last season aired in the UK only a day later, and same thing with the new season. For those who have Sky, that is.

  • RogerBW

    Makes sense. I think that this is something the tv firms now try to do, but sometimes the inter-company politics get very strange…

  • Exactly. Friggin’ idiots. Why is this so hard to understand?

  • See my previous post. The FF threads are in now way indicative of the average viewer. People will do anything to not pay for stuff. It’s pathetic.

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