There's been a lot of talk lately about the fact that HBO's insistence on only offering its shows to cable susbcribers is driving a lot of people to piracy—many of whom have repeatedly said that they would gladly pay if HBO offered an on-demand service that's separate from a cable package. By now you may have heard about the latest expression of this growing sentiment: the Take My Money, HBO! campaign, encouraging would-be customers to tweet HBO with the monthly amount they'd be wiling to pay for such a service, which has been getting quite a bit of attention since its launch.
It's a good idea with a catchy hook, and I don't write this post to condemn it—but I do think that, ultimately, the truth of the matter is a bit different: while there's definitely a bunch of money being left on the table, it's not there for the taking, it's there for the earning. If HBO offered an on-demand service and it sucked (like if it was encumbered with pointlessly restrictive DRM) then it wouldn't have any impact at all—because, just as with any other content industry, the true goal is to actually compete with piracy by offering a superior alternative with a genuine reason to buy.
Luckily for HBO, competing with piracy should be really, really easy in this case. The real message that comes from all these people asking HBO to "take" their money is that they aren't satisfied with the pirated product. There are all sorts of drawbacks to pirated television: bad links, spammy sites, crappy videos, and the seeming eternity between when a much-anticipated show finishes airing and when it hits torrent sites and video lockers (in reality only about 10 minutes—but to true fans who want to participate in a shared event, it matters). All the people joining the Twitter campaign aren't saying they want to pay for a worse option, or even a similar option; rather, they know that HBO can easily offer a far superior option, since it has the first-hand access to the material.
HBO has already done the job of earning people's attention with its programming. Indeed, it's clearly done a damn good job of that part. But at the end of the day it's still a matter of earning their money by offering some true competition. Pirate sources have one thing going for them: availability. And availability is worth so much (when compared to HBO's highly restricted access) that all HBO's other advantages aren't enough for it to compete. But the moment it met the pirates on their own field and matched them on that one thing, it would have every other advantage in the book, and could quickly supplant the competition—and earning that money might be very nearly as easy as taking it after all.