For three years, now, as its ratings have continued to rise, we've talked about the pop-culture punch of Game of Thrones, but we've also talked about its prominent place in online piracy. It's been the most pirated show on TV for three consecutive years, and a few months ago, the season-four finale's download rate was on pace to shatter the show's previous record. Torrenting numbers that big reflect not just the show's status as one of the most talked-about on TV, but also its presence on HBO, a network you can only get if you first purchase a cable package, then spend even more money to subscribe to the channel.
Fans and pundits alike have been clamoring for HBO to launch a subscription-based streaming service for a while, to pull in all of those Thrones viewers who don't want to pay for cable but happily pay for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu while either torrenting the show or borrowing an HBOGo (the network's streaming service that comes with its cable subscription) password to stream it. This year alone, the season premiere of Thrones and the season finale of runaway hit crime drama True Detective crashed HBOGo's servers thanks, in part, to viewers who didn't actually subscribe to the network but were simply borrowing passwords. Many have argued that a streaming-only service would bring in more legal viewers and cut down on password sharing, and though HBO has said in the past that they're not all that worried about Thrones torrenting, they seem to have finally heard the call.
While addressing a Time Warner Inc. investor meeting Wednesday, HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler noted that there are currently 10 million broadband-only homes in the United States, a number that's projected to grow.
“That is a large and growing opportunity that should no longer be left untapped. It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO," Plepler said. Then, he dropped the big news.
“So, in 2015, we will launch a stand-alone, over-the-top, HBO service in the United States. We will work with our current partners. And, we will explore models with new partners. All in, there are 80 million homes that do not have HBO and we will use all means at our disposal to go after them.”
That's right, HBO's finally giving us a standalone streaming service, and we might even get it by the time Game of Thrones returns for season five (though we don't yet know release details). Plepler did not elaborate on exactly how the service would work, what it would cost or whether it would eliminate the password sharing of HBOGo, but the news is big nonetheless. It has huge implications for the future of HBO's most popular shows, as well as the future of TV itself. For years, HBO's been a big draw for cable companies, and now it's at least in some way cutting out the middleman.
It'll be a while before we see just how much this will change the landscape of HBO's influence, but at the very least the service will pick up subscriptions from people who would've happily paid to watch Game of Thrones live before, as long as they didn't have to also pay for other cable channels they didn't want. What do you think? Will you subscribe to HBO's new streaming service, and will it change the rate of Thrones piracy much?