Is it Foxtel? Is it HBO? Could it be Apple? Or was it those dirty, dirty pirates?
As a total aside, I can cross “getting kerfuffle into a headline” off my bucket list. You’ve no idea how long that’s waited there. And now, on with the show…
Game Of Thrones remains the talking point when it comes to piracy and the Internet. Something to do with it being incredibly popular no doubt, but there’s been a strong set of opposing forces at play here. On one side, the content creators, who both want to make content and make money doing so. On the other side, the wide audience, many of whom want that content for free, and preferably as quickly as possible.
Many railed against Foxtel’s exclusive on Game Of Thrones, noting that the asking price, on a premium package, was more than they were willing to pay just for Game Of Thrones. I get where they’re coming from, but then again, there was an option open to them; paying for the iTunes season pass that scored them 1080p episodes early on a Tuesday morning that they could keep. A bargain in my view — but that’s a point I’ve made before.
Now it appears that the iTunes loophole is one that’ll only last for this season of Game Of Thrones (and, if I read the reports correctly, True Blood as well), but from next year, the exclusive, no-loopholes home of Westeros will be on Foxtel only, due to an exclusivity deal Foxtel’s signed with HBO.
So who’s to blame here?
Is it Foxtel? From a business standpoint, Foxtel has presumably laid down serious chunks of change for HBO exclusivity, and that means two things. Firstly, it’s got to maintain that exclusivity for it to be worth something. It’s not clear why this season is fine to onsell quickly, but next season isn’t, but exclusive only counts if it’s true. Secondly, it’s got to actually make that pay, which is why (presumably) Game Of Thrones isn’t part of a standard Foxtel package. That’s basic capitalism at its most simple; charge what the market will pay. Although whether it’ll pay that is the interesting question, which I’ll get to shortly.
Is it HBO? Again, HBO’s business is in making the most out of its content from a financial viewpoint. The exact details of HBO’s deal with Foxtel aren’t public knowledge, but it’s fair to say that HBO’s desirable output didn’t come cheap. There’s another unknown factor at play here, and Apple’s probably the only ones who know what that is.
It’s the issue of exactly how many people were actually paying for iTunes Game Of Thrones episodes. Apple certainly hasn’t been shy in pushing Game Of Thrones Season passes to the forefront of the Apple iTunes store — again, it would rather make money than not make money — but the exact numbers aren’t clear.
A quick look at the local iTunes TV charts suggests that it’s probably doing relatively well, given that episode 3 (“The Bear and the Maiden Fair”) sits at the top of the episodes chart, and the season 3 pass sits at the top of the Seasons chart as I write this. I totally get that it feels at the consumer end as thought the carpet has been yanked out from us in terms of payment options, and that’s a great pity.
The real unknown factor is whether Foxtel’s pulled a power play on something that was already known (that is, that season six was the only season that could be sold this way), or if it was a calculated move after it became clear that sold episodes were a challenge to its exclusivity. It also means that the possibilities for pay-per-episode in Australia just got a little smaller, because there will be fewer case studies that show it to be a viable alternative. For those who don’t wish to pay for a full suite of Pay TV, that’s the real problem here, well above and beyond whether you want to know quite how evil King Joffrey is. Quite evil, if you hadn’t gathered by now. I don’t think that qualifies as a spoiler.
As for those who happily just pirate everything they want to see? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you don’t support production of cultural content (whether it’s TV, movies, music, books, whatever) in some format, it becomes increasingly difficult to actually pay for producing it.
Foxtel only wins in this scenario if it does manage to snag those iTunes customers into full Foxtel customers, but that seems unlikely. Yes, it could obviously backfire if the next season is even higher up the torrent piracy charts and Australia is seen as piracy capital of the world, but even then that’s a less than desirable outcome if you actually like watching TV.
If Australia’s viewed as a land of TV pirates, it’s increasingly likely — not less likely — that content providers will chase exclusive deals that actually help to pay the bills. You’re not entitled to TV, after all.