Game of Thrones, Season 4: a licence to pirate?
"HBO takes a step backward, restricting commercial download options"Featured comment
Game of Thrones, Season 4 kicks off Monday night NZ time - and at the same time, commercial download options are being narrowed.
They'll be sharp ratings spikes for its maker, HBO, plus its partners around the world like Sky TV. And there will be big surge in BitTorrent traffic as the first episode is illegally shared.
Around this time last year, as Season 3 kicked off, I was quite happy with my viewing options.
The new season was available on iTunes Australia (iTunes NZ doesn't bother with any TV series, full stop). I purchased some iTunes Australia gift cards (which the service will sportingly accept in leiu of a local credit card), and bought the show, in HD (I've got a $159 Apple TV widget that lets me easily download and watch movies and TV shows on my regular TV, not laptop or tablet required).
I didn't have to pirate. HBO took my money (minus a 30% cut for Apple), and I got to legally watch the show without having to shell out for a monthly subscription to Sky TV - which just doesn't figure in my preferred setup of Freeview plus whatever I decide to download from iTunes (and beyond Apple TV, others are using Netflix, Google Chromecast, or have already put in orders for Amazon's Fire TV).
This year: going backwards
But of course, the online content war isn't just about fighting piracy and protecting copyright. It's more about defending old-time regional distribution monopolies.
This year, I can't go to iTunes Australia to grab the latest Game of Thrones episode just hours after it screens in the US (and in Australia and NZ).
Foxtel has wrapped up a new deal with HBO that means no over-the-top contender (like iTunes or QuickFlix) can offer GoT season 4 until all episodes have screened on broadcast TV.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Adam Turner says "Making it harder for people to legitimately watch Game of Thrones seems like a major step backwards in the war on piracy." Some will be tempted to hit the Torrents (though not me).
But he also makes the good point that people shouldn't turn their anger on Foxtel (or Sky TV here, you could say. After all Sky TV is not like the Telecom of old, which inherited a monopoly, its investors took a lot of risk, and lost money for years, building their market position).
Instead Turner blames HBO for "screwing Australia" by snubbing Apple and QuickFlix.
"HBO forfeits any right to complain about piracy when it refuses to take our money?" he rails.
That's a good point. And people in the US could make the same complaint, given the similar contretemps there with Netflix. Content makers' and distributors' behaviour has to change.
So here's a plan for the HBO for 2015, when Game of Thrones, Season 5 rolls around:
Sell broadcast rights to Sky TV (or MediaWorks or TVNZ if Sky TV packs a sad), then give non-exclusive online rights to Sky TV, Apple, QuickFlix, Telecom, Sony, Microsoft and all-comers. There's zero excuse for piracy, and I've got strong feeling HBO would make more money out of this country than ever before. Rinse and repeat in other territories.
Don't stay at war with your own customers. Give them choice, and reap the profits.
Meantime, process this: