By Steve Outing
The headline above may give the wrong impression. Actually, I love and am seriously addicted to HBO’s Game of Thrones fantasy-drama series. That title refers to the cruel (and unfortunately still usual) way that HBO limits access to the hit TV show.
But first, the show. I ignored the hubbub for the first four seasons of Game of Thrones, until a friend loaned me his DVD set of season 1. Typical story: watched one episode and I was hooked; binge-watched the first 10 episodes on DVD; then purchased (and binged on) the season 2 digital version on Apple iTunes, then ditto for season 3.
Now, of course, those of you who aren’t as behind as me know that earlier this summer HBO finished showing all the Game of Thrones season 4 episodes. Here in the USA, if you don’t subscribe to HBO (like me), then you’re in for a wait to binge-watch season 4. The USA release date for the Game of Thrones DVD set is February 15, 2015, and it appears that in this country purchasing it digitally on iTunes or Amazon.com may be delayed until then, too.
It’s difficult to defend HBO’s business model when it comes to Game of Thrones. It seems logical that the company’s best move would be to release season 4 on iTunes and Amazon.com for digital purchase as soon as the final episode is aired on HBO cable. Now that I’m ready to move on to season 4, I’d gladly pay the US$40 or so. What I won’t do is sign up for an HBO subscription to add to my monthly cable bill, since Thrones is the only HBO program I’m interested in watching.
I got truly jealous of Thrones fans in the U.K. and Australia when I realized that in those countries, full digital sales of season 4 opened the day after episode 10 was aired. (This may be the case in other countries.) Brits still can’t purchase season 4 via iTunes, but they can at Amazon.co.uk for £22.99. In Australia, season 4 streamed digital video can be purchased on Quickflix for AUS$28.99, or on Google Play Australia for the same price.
Oh, I understand why HBO is screwing over American fans of Game of Thrones. Delay streaming sales for months in hopes that lots of non-subscribers will add HBO to their cable service, so that they can then watch season 4 on HBO Go, its on-demand video service.
Perhaps HBO’s bean-counters calculated that they’d make more money by persuading Thrones fans to subscribe vs. one-off sales of streaming episodes or the entire season 4. The trouble is, HBO is encouraging piracy.
Indeed, Thrones is the most pirated television show ever, and has the Guinness World Record to prove it.
Release-delay strategies like those for HBO’s Game of Thrones are short-sighted, and I don’t believe that they can last much longer. Consumer choice is ignored at media companies’ peril. At some point, HBO and other content gatekeepers will have to offer a variety of choices to suit different customers. Some will want an all-you-can eat monthly premium-channel subscription; others will want to dine à la carte, purchasing or renting streaming digital episodes or seasons.
Don’t give consumers what they want, and many fans will look to BitTorrent or questionable sites like Project-Free TV for free viewing (which of course can become a habit, if you don’t mind poor-resolution viewing). Sure, a significant portion of the Thrones audience will watched pirated versions even if there is a legitimate way to pay. But there also are many people, like me, who want to avoid pirate video, and its risks, and will pay when on-demand one-off purchases or rentals are available without delay.
Well, I tossed some of my money at the Game of Thrones empire for seasons 2 and 3. For season 4, I’ll have to either go the free BitTorrent route, or figure out if I can purchase it from an online site in Britain or Australia by using a proxy server to mask my location. That would be too bad for HBO.
I could wait till next February, but the addiction is strong. Too bad HBO won’t take my money now just because I live in the USA.