So I’ve sparked something of a controversy without really meaning to by writing this post on piracy and Game of Thrones. I basically argued that if HBO wants to curb piracy, they should offer a stand-alone HBO GO service for non-cable customers, cord-cutters, and so forth.
The thing is, HBO probably isn’t all that concerned with piracy.
They have a business model that works, they make plenty of money and have gained plenty of subscribers and, to make a long story short, they don’t want to fix something that isn’t broken.
This is a frustrating reality for those of us who prefer to consume our entertainment online, but we represent a relatively small demographic. This may change in the future, and certainly cord-cutting is on the rise, but at the present there is no incentive for HBO to worry about piracy or to offer a stand-alone service.
I do think that the fact that cable has become so expensive, especially since customers now also pay for broadband access, is a problem. I’m not sure that there is any simple way to address this problem, however, until it becomes unsustainable for the entertainment industry. The huge number of channels and costs associated with those channels provide subsidies for the content we see on premium channels such as HBO.
If HBO were to break off and do a stand-alone service they would be giving up those subsidies and would incur huge additional costs in terms of support, billing, and infrastructure that they currently aren’t burdened with. This would make producing the content they produce now – including extremely expensive shows such as Game of Thrones - impossible. At the very least, it would be a huge risk.
Furthermore, if HBO broke away from cable they would have to do so by ending lucrative contracts with the cable industry that make their business model possible. These are the challenges and obstacles that make such a move a gamble for HBO. So my earlier post may as well be chalked up to wishful thinking.
The wishful part hasn’t changed, but I realize the flaws in my arguments. Indeed, the flaw in my premise. It turns out, piracy just isn’t that big of a deal for HBO – which is sort of what techie types have been saying all along. It’s sort of a catch-22 for internet evangelists when you think about it...