Tuesday, February 02, 2016


Let me tell you a story.

It starts in 2013. A year when the Pope resigned and a meteor touched down in Russia, leaving streaks of biblical flame across the sky.

And 'Game of Thrones' is the most pirated TV program in the world.

There is no shortage of opinion and conjecture on why GOT is so excessively stolen. Loose moraled, tech savvy teenagers. The disrespect of the general populace towards intellectual property. And, of course, the view I subscribe to:

'To a certain degree one could claim that HBO is to blame for Game of Thrones’ high piracy rates. They want to keep access to the show “exclusive” and even Netflix wasn’t able to buy the rights for a huge sum of money. Combined with delayed airing in many parts of the world, these restrictions are the main reason why so many people chose to download the show illegally.'

When faced with such heavy piracy in 2013, to the tune of 4.4 million stolen views PER EPISODE, you may assume that HBO would be filled with cataclysmic, white-hot rage over the theft.

You would be wrong.

Given the opportunity to decry the piracy, a director on the series, David Petrarca, instead opined:

'...the illegal downloads did not matter because such shows thrived on "cultural buzz" and capitalised on the social commentary they generated.

"That's how they survive," he told the crowd'


Which would certainly explain why, in 2013, HBO continued the strategy of exclusive deals with particular broadcast partners, instead of general availability to their audience. HBO obviously believed in the velvet rope. In keeping out the rabble, lest they bring the entire tone of the party down.

I also existed in 2013. And I thought this tactic from HBO was blatant, short-sighted, greedy stupidity.

To me, it seemed like a scorched Earth policy. A way for HBO to make a significant sum from forcing less tech savvy GOT audiences into pricey subscriptions; but which also bred a wave of piracy. A wave which could turn tsunami and create a generation of pirates, who would be lost forever to the darkside of BitTorrent.

HBO's message was simple: 'screw you all, as long as HBO makes a little more money.'

Fast forward to 2014.

In a move that surprised very few people, HBO signed a new batch of exclusive deals, one of which was in Australia. The exclusivity HBO granted froze out GOT audiences who didn't want (or couldn't afford) to pay an exorbitant price for a Cable/PayTV service that delivered the show later than the rest of the world.

You can imagine the response. The piracy not only continued unabated, it grew. Exponentially.

Until at last, in 2015, HBO had seen enough.

Finally enraged by the years of theft, HBO made it clear they were immensely displeased with the pirates of GOT. The era of strong public statements and issuing stern letters to torrent users had begun.

Having awakened the beast at last, the terrifying HBO dragon from which lashes of flaming, legalese threats streamed forth, it could be understood if GOT pirates disappeared into every dark nook and crawl space available. I certainly would have, in their shoes.

Instead, they rebelled. An audience uprising began, pirating GOT in, literally, record numbers.

HBO were furious. And frustrated.

Netflix had launched in Australia in March 2015. The take-up had been so successful, that the video streaming service had created a measurable slowdown on Australia's national internet network.

Yes, people were PAYING for Netflix subscriptions in droves. Why were they stealing GOT so excessively?

Perhaps this could be a moment of reflection for HBO. A chance to review their strategy and work towards building bridges with GOT, and more broadly HBO, audiences. To quell the rebellion. These pirates were clamoring to pay for alternative, legal access points to HBO's content after all.

A fresh start for both sides.

If only.

HBO's reward, for those audiences who were using more advanced means to legally access HBO content, was to cut them off completely.

You heard me correctly.

Australian subscribers to HBOGo, a 'USA residents only' service being accessed by these Australians using a VPN, were identified and blocked from the site. These were people who wanted to pay for legal access to HBO shows so badly, they were willing to go through several complicated technological steps to do it.

And keep in mind, they could have just pirated.

Which many, many people continue to do. Making HBO very angry.

So they make their shows even harder to access for most audiences, legally.

That's the HBO fairytale.

A long frustrating story, which makes no sense, except for the moral:

Greed will turn your audience against you.

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