Just How Much Do Shows Like Game Of Thrones Owe To Piracy?

from the more-than-they-like-to-admit,-I-suspect dept

The HBO show Game of Thrones has become something of a symbol for TV piracy as a response to lack of availability, ever since it was used as an example in a comic by Matthew Inman (which was then reprised as a post by MG Siegler, minus the jokes). This is probably because it's ridiculously addictive (once you start watching, there's no way you're going to stop before someone stabs that Joffrey kid). This month the second season began, and after all the criticisms of their distribution scheme, HBO accidentally threw frustrated online viewers a bone by leaking the second episode nearly a week ahead of schedule—someone working on the Dutch edition of HBO Go must have accidentally flipped a switch, and winter came early. But before that happened, the season premier aired to a massive ratings jump, which most people anticipated. Why? Because, they reasoned, the nine-month gap between seasons gave new viewers a chance to catch up with (and get hooked on) the series by watching season one on HBO On Demand and HBO Go.

It's a good theory, but only some are prepared to mention the elephant in the room: plenty of people (quite possibly the majority) caught up through unauthorized streams and torrents, just like Matthew Inman. And that brings us to the bigger elephant lurking in the whole house: how much has piracy contributed to the rise of HBO-style television? Would we have complex, high-concept, critically acclaimed shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones without it? Many people attribute this fundamental shift in the nature of popular television, from episodic towards serialized, to DVDs and legitimate digital sources—but I'd wager that piracy is a much more significant factor.

There are two main reasons. Firstly, the ability to watch any episode any time makes such can't-miss-an-episode shows less of a commitment. This, alone, is the single biggest contributing factor to the popularity of heavily serialized television, and it is impossible to explain it entirely with DVDs and sources like iTunes. Many cable subscribers turn to piracy as a way to catch missed episodes, and that safety net prevents serialized shows from alienating viewers and losing momentum. Secondly, unauthorized sources are especially popular with the fanatics—the people who evangelize "must watch" shows to their friends and coworkers, and who create memes with screencaps to spread on Tumblr and Facebook. That's not to mention the amateur critics and TV bloggers who generate buzz (in fact, there is a bit of a back and forth going on over the ethics of piracy in the critic community).

Of course, as digital offerings get better, more and more of this kind of activity happens through legitimate channels instead of piracy (not like anyone's been saying that all along, or anything). But services like Netflix got to the table once the serial television trend was in full-swing, so they don't account for its inception. Some people fear that television piracy will put at end to such ambitious undertakings in the medium—but they should stop to consider the hand it played in making them possible to begin with.

Filed Under: game of thrones, leak, piracy, television
Companies: hbo, netflix


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Eo Nomine, 9 Apr 2012 @ 6:47am

    Re: Wrong-- It's the paywall

    "It is fascinating to watch you try to argue that somehow piracy deserves credit for this because people can get hooked on the show from a P2P network. And what will the cheap jerks do when the new episodes come out? Will they dutifully subscribe to HBO? Wrong. They'll just download the latest episode too."

    This is exactly right. How can piracy have helped boost GoT's second season premiere ratings when those ratings require a subscription to HBO... and if you subscribe to HBO, you have access to HBO Go and therefore have no reason to pirate? The only way piracy actually helps HBO is if pirates convert to subscribers, and given that the primary complaint is that HBO 'forces' people to pirate GoT because it requires a cable subscription you'll forgive me if I'm highly skeptical of any claims that piracy increases subscriptions.

    You're conflating popularity with success... the two aren't the same. And I'd argue that GoT is popular (and pirated) because it's well-written, well-acted high quality programming based on a hugely successful franchise with huge production values, not because it's pirated.

    Oh, and while many here undoubtedly like to expound upon how disconnected & outdated HBO is by employing their business model, here's a fantastic reply to Inman & Siegler that also explains why HBO does this: http://www.avclub.com/articles/patience-and-piracy-why-helping-yourself-hurts-goo,70068/

    Read it; perhaps you'll actually learn something about the industry you claim to know better than.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.