Note: This piece is written from the hypothetical perspective of someone who has illegally downloaded Game of Thrones.
I'm not a dishonest person, and certainly not a bad person. I believe artists, including writers, actors, special-effects creators, etc., should be paid for the work they do, and paid well, especially when they take chances, stray out of traditional “safe” zones, and create high quality original content – speaking of which, I'm a big fan of Game of Thrones.
I’d be happy to pay for the privilege of watching Game of Thrones as it is released, episode by episode, just as I eventually pay to buy each season on Blu-Ray, or to download each episode in high-definition through Sony's (SNE) PlayStation Network as soon as these options become available. The problem is, I'm not given the option of doing so. Not only don't I have a subscription to HBO, but as a cord cutter, I don't even have the sort of cable television subscription that would allow me to buy a subscription to HBO.
I do, however, know how to use bit-torrent technology, as nearly everyone my age has since the feds shut down Napster in July of 2001. And so, to tide me over in-between the time I watch new episodes at a friend's house, and the season's release on Blu-Ray, I acquire the shows through alternate channels. HBO knows this is going on, and doesn't particularly care. This, from HBO's programming chief, Michael Lombardo in Entertainment Weekly:
“[Illegal downloading] is a compliment of sorts. The demand is there. And it certainly didn’t negatively impact the DVD sales. [Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network.”
One might argue that this undercuts my claim to honesty, but I suggest that it underscores my point: I used bit-torrent technology to acquire digital music when there was no other way, but I stopped using it as soon as it became practical to buy my music digitally through Apple's (AAPL) iTunes store. And I would be happy to stop using it for Game of Thrones, if only I were given the chance.
Which is why I am so happy today to see this announcement today, from HBO. Though our illicit relationship has been profitable for both of us, HBO has decided to make an honest viewer of me by launching a stand-alone HBO service, which, presumably, I'll be able to access through the same set-top boxes I currently used to access Netflix (NFLX). The great thing about this decision, from the perspective of Time Warner (TWX), which owns HBO, is that if the company gets even a fraction of those currently pirating the show as paid subscribers (and it will), it will receive a huge revenue boost.
The great thing about this from the consumer's perspective, other than the chance to again walk in the light, is that it means Comcast (CMCSA) doesn't yet control the decisions of every media company in the world. Of course, how long it will be until Comcast is bullying Time Warner the way it is currently bullying Netscape remains to be seen. Oh, there is yet another benefit, which I hadn't thought of until now. I'll have to confirm this, but I'm fairly sure HBO offers other shows, in addition to Game of Thrones. I can’t wait to learn what they are!
Julian Close has been a business writer since the first day of the twenty-first century, having written for PRA International and the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping. He graduated from Davidson College in 1993 and received a Master of Arts in Teaching from Mary Baldwin College in 2011. He became a stockbroker in 1993, but now works for Fresh Brewed Media and uses his powers only for good. You can see closing trades for all Julian's long and short positions and track his long term performance via twitter: @JulianClose_MIC.