HBO Is Not Ready to Protect Game of Thrones Season 7 from Piracy
Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in TV history.1
In 2013, the CEO of Time Warner, Jeff Bewkes, stated that record was “better than an Emmy.”2 However, in the past couple of years, HBO decided to no longer tolerate piracy and sent thousands of infringement warnings. 3 HBO sends notices to internet service providers (ISPs). The notices contain the IP address that HBO believes was used to illegally download copyrighted content, and requests that the ISP contact the subscriber. Uniquely, HBO also encourages ISPs to inform the infringing subscribers of the legal options for accessing the content. However, the ISPs are not obligated to forward the notices to subscribers and HBO does not have the subscriber’s identities. 4 It appears that those who do not sow also don’t get caught.
A recent study done by the University of East Anglia suggests that creating legal alternatives for accessing content is more likely to change unlawful behavior than prosecution.5 On March 2015, HBO Now hit the market, enabling Game of Thrones fans to stream the show legally even if they didn’t have a cable subscription (which is required for HBO Go). HBO Now only has 880,000 subscribers. Meanwhile, the piracy rate for Game of Thrones roughly doubled in 2015, exceeding 14 million downloads. 6 HBO Now and infringement notices have failed to safeguard the Seven Kingdoms.
A study by Kantar Media revealed that cheaper legal service and legal availability for all desired content would encourage infringers to stop. 7 However, HBO is failing on both counts. HBO Now costs $14.99/month, which is significantly more expensive than Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. Further, HBO Now is only available in the United States, leaving fans in other countries with a single legal option: cable. 8 Outside the US, HBO Go is usually not an option, even if the viewer has cable.
The situation can best be surmised by the words of Ramsay Bolton, “if you think this story has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” HBO is losing the battle against piracy and significant potential revenue. Yet, if HBO did succeed in having all infringing content removed from the internet today (which is as probable as Joffrey having a conscience), millions of fans would be forced to give up watching the show or get a cable subscription, as legal internet-based options simply don’t exist for them.
Game of Thrones will be returning mid-2017, leaving HBO with limited time to make legal options more accessible for viewers in the US and abroad. Winter is coming and HBO is not yet ready to protect its kingdoms.