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Game of Thrones, Season 4: a licence to pirate?

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:

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Comments and questions

Sky TV has been sluggish with digital content. The Sky Go iPad app is a positive, but it's still got thinner content that Foxtel and Sky UK's apps, and no ondemand content, and there's no HD option - even though that's been standard on other streaming services for years. Plans to integrate iSky/Sky Go into MySky decoders seem to be forever delayed. There's just no incentive to innovate when competitors are starved of content, and can't gain any momentum.

If online rights are decoupled from broadcast rights, and QuickFlix and Apple iTunes and all-comers can offer shows from HBO etc, it'll make Sky TV get off it's bum.

Time for NZ to stop bothering with satellite TV and send the money towards Internet TV. Get the new cable for internet laid down under the ocean, lay the the good fibre all over NZ (as planned) and open the market to content by getting rid of silly middlemen like Sky who uses satellites. Satellites are probably a bit like the Japanese whaling fleet, the hardware was purchased and by Jupiter, they will use it no matter the common sense.

I only watch real time TV in the mornings over breakfast, everything else is watched when I have time. I try to catch the 6pm news but usually still run around with dinner and the kids. TV needs to adapt or die because piracy probably allows more flexibility in your daily schedule and wallet. Compare (just estimates as I don't have actual figures) the cost of SkyTV subscription (uses satellites, dishes and a constantly redesigned decoder) VS whatever Computer or mobile devise you already use, a decent bunch of broadband 500G for about $130, VPN $5, Netflix $10, Hulu Plus $10. Kiwi content is missing, but we can figure out a plan. The math does not make sense, why do we pay stupid money for limited satellite TV services?

If we could subscribe straight to say HBO Go for GoT via a season pass or monthly fee it allows more flexibility and choice, but be are stuck with middlemen like Sky and FoxTel and their satellites that needs to be maintained.

Man. These companies get dumber by the day. Next week the headlines will be proclaiming GoT season 4 episode 1 as the most pirated show of all time. Breaking the record of GoT season 3. HBO - charge people anywhere in the world $10USD a month, cut out the middle men between you and your customer and enjoy the spoils.

Great trailer. Good laugh.The entertainment distribution model is in its death throes, unfortunately the visionaries make the programmes not the business models.

I have just had the same issue with House of Cards Season 2. It was released in America but not officially available in NZ. The easiest way of watching it now is to buy an eye patch, a cutlass & head off to PirateBay. The Queen knighted Sir Francis Drake for his pirate exploits, I wonder if I'd get a mention in the new years honours?

So is part of the TPPA designed to protect the old distribution model which, clearly, the market/customer is clearly moving away from?

The leaked, US-authored chapter of the TPPA was certainly seemed very movie and music industry influenced.

Essentially it would mean an end to watching multizone DVDs here, tapping disc via NZ Posts YouShop and things like using Slingshot's Global Mode to access Netflix or gift cards or Air NZ Air Points credit carts to access better-stocked, offshore versions of iTunes. Our current law is pretty enlightened with this sort of digital or online equivalent to parallel importing.

However,it's no done deal that the US will get its way.

It's hard to get a clear picture, since ongoing TPPA negotiations are secret, but it does seem the US is relatively isolated in this old world view on copyright.

There's also the factor that once all the countries involved in the TPPA agree, the US President at the time will have to get the Senate to ratify the treaty. And that will be a fraught process. While movie studios, TV networks and record companies have a degree of influence in Washington DC, so (increasingly) do tech companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft - and they're likely to take a more progressive approach to global online distribution of content.

And then of course they'll be lobbyists for agriculture and big pharma and so forth weighing in. It'll be a bun fight that will go on for ages, and possible derail the TPPA altogether. Here's hoping.

Latest research released April 8 finds 5.8% of New Zealand adults say they have used a “virtual tunnel”, disguising their geographical location in order to buy content from overseas content providers, like Netflix, in the past week. This is the equivalent of 185,500 adults.

48% of them, equivalent to 89,550 adults, said they had used a “virtual tunnel” in the past week.

Meantime, 21 out of every 100 adults admit to illegal downloading. The results are here: