We once called Game of Thrones "free-to-play" television, in that piracy was rampant but HBO didn't seem to care.
That was a year ago, and a few things have changed. HBO cares, but the cable company is doing all the right things to fix things.
"In an unprecedented move, Game of Thrones will premiere in over 170 countries and territories across the globe simultaneously with HBO’s U.S. airing on Sunday, April 12 at 9:00pm ET," HBO announced via press release. "The entire fifth season of the Emmy-, Golden Globe- and Peabody-winning series will be simulcast to HBO branded networks and broadcast partners across the world, creating a global television event week after week throughout the season’s 10-episode run."
No more having to choose between waiting for the show in your market or pirating it, now everyone will be watching, and talking about, Game of Thrones at the same time, although the time zones will likely mean you'll want to avoid social media a few hours in both directions if you're sensitive to spoilers.
That social media push is a big deal, and HBO isn't shy about spreading the numbers. "Since its debut Game of Thrones has become a worldwide phenomenon and the most popular series in HBO history," the announcement stated. "Last year, the series was the most searched television show worldwide on Google and the #1 most talked about show on Facebook in the U.S."
This movie will mean that, around the world, you're going to feel left out of a very big conversation if you're not watching the show. It's the sort of watercooler-inspired urgency that has been a big part of the success of Game of Thrones, and this should go a long way to help people who want to watch the show legitimately to do so.
Now Apple gets a cut
The next piece of this puzzle comes from Apple of all places, which will be the only place you'll be able to watch HBO Now content on your television without having to pick up a costly cable package. The $15-per-month subscription service will give you access to HBO's content without having to go through a cable carrier, but you'll still need to go through an Apple device, at least for now, or your PC.
Still, it's a step in the right direction, and if cable providers aren't terrified yet, they will be soon. What HBO is doing is unbundling itself from the package deals of telecoms, which are almost universally hated in the U.S., and linking up with other companies to sell its shows.
HBO has a slate of interesting content, but there's a reason this news was released alongside a new trailer for Game of Thrones and everyone in the tech press ran a Game of Thrones image while pushing the story. HBO is the Game of Thrones network right now, and they're comfortable with that designation; this just gives you another way to pay for the content.
That social media push is a big deal
HBO has always been in an interesting spot with Game of Thrones; according to a story on TorrentFreak last December the show was pirated 8.1 million times, and enjoyed a viewership of around 7.2 million individuals. The next show on the most pirated list had only 4.8 million downloads against 17.3 million viewers.
Comparing a show on a premium channel like HBO to The Walking Dead, which is on basic cable, is apples to oranges, but HBO has to be excited about different plans in motion that could move some of column A over to column B as paying customers.
It would be great if HBO opened HBO Now widely, but this is already a big step, and it's likely to be the first of many. HBO isn't cracking down on pirates, it's giving you more ways to pay for the content, while allowing you to see the content sooner. Piracy, as has famously been said, is a service issue. HBO is taking that idea to heart.