Brace Yourselves: Piracy is Coming

The season-three finale of Game Of Thrones set new BitTorrent download records around the world, with 170,000 people sharing the file simultaneously at one stage. It’s estimated that the finale was downloaded over a million times within the first 24 hours and congratulations Australia –  with the smallest population out of our international illegal-downloading compatriots, we topped the ranks for the most prolific pirating nation.

US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich used UN World Book and Copyright Day in April of this year to make a plea on behalf of US creatives. In a Facebook post titled ‘Stop the Game of Clones‘ He asked Australian fans to stop illegally downloading Game of Thrones.

One episode was illegally downloaded about 4,280,000 times through public BitTorrent trackers in 2012, which is about equal to the number of that episode’s broadcast viewers. In other words, about half of that episode’s viewers stole the program from HBO. As the Ambassador here in Australia, it was especially troubling to find out that Australian fans were some of the worst offenders with among the highest piracy rates of Game of Thrones in the world. While some people here used to claim that they used pirate sites only because of a delay in getting new episodes here, the show is now available from legitimate sources within hours of its broadcast in the United States.’

Despite the fast tracking of TV shows from the US, as Bleich mentions,  Australia is still behind the play. Without paid TV services like Foxtel, the show is often unavailable to the average fan. If you want to watch Game of Thrones in Australia, it turns out, you can’t just pay $33-odd per season any more, at least for Season 4 and beyond. You’ll need to pony up a cool $47 per month for Foxtel’s essentials package, plus another $25 a month for Foxtel’s Movies and Premium Drama offering. Lets be honest – who’s going to pay for a whole pay TV package just because they want to watch one series from HBO? You can see why people aren’t willing to do this.  If HBO and paid TV services allowed a pay as you go or an on demand service they would see the number of illegal downloads dropping significantly.

They seems to think that “fast-tracking” shows on to Australian screens will combat piracy, but really they’re missing the point. Australians don’t download TV shows simply because they’re impatient. They also download their favourite TV shows because they’re unwatchable on free-to-air television. Australians stealing Game of Thrones aren’t rebelling against free-to-air networks, instead they’re rebelling against the cost of a Foxtel subscription.

The issue of piracy could represent a massive opportunity in the TV industry to increase their audience and reach. The best example of this shift to a pay as you go service is in the music industry with companies like Spotify and other music streaming services enjoying success and gaining considerable market share. The question is if people are willing to pay for a music streaming service like Spotify rather than illegally downloading music, does this mean they would also buy television and movies in the same way? Two years ago I would download all of my music for free. Perhaps it would be a viable option for HBO to provide a live streaming service for a small fee so that Australian’s wouldn’t need to waste money on hundreds of unwatched Foxtel channels. Despite there being plenty of alternatives thrown out there as piracy is at the forefront of current political and social debate in Australia including fast tracked shows, cheaper alternatives and live streaming, the reality is that pirating will continue because ultimately, no business model in the world can compete with free.

References

Delimiter. 2012. Despite quick, cheap, legal option, Australia still top Games of Thrones pirating nation – Delimiter. [online] Available at: http://delimiter.com.au/2013/04/03/despite-quick-cheap-legal-option-australia-still-top-games-of-thrones-pirating-nation/ [Accessed: 10 Sep 2013].

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