news Pay TV giant Foxtel has confirmed reports that it will block the remaining seasons of HBO’s popular Game of Thrones series from being offered in Australia hours after the show is released in the US, due to an exclusive deal with the show’s producer HBO signed in October last year.
Game of Thrones — based on George R. R. Martin’s hit fantasy book series A Song of Ice and Fire — has leapt into the top ratings as one of the most popular television shows in Australia and globally over the past several years. However, at the same time, it has seen record levels of piracy in Australia due to the fact that it has not been available on free to air television, and has only recently been made available locally in a timely fashion through Apple’s iTunes platform after each episode airs in the US.
Analysis by file-sharing news site TorrentFreak published last month, for example, showed that Australia continued to be the world’s most enthusiastic nation globally in terms of illegally downloading Game of Thrones, despite the fact that the series was made available legally, cheaply and in high quality in Australia shortly after it was broadcast in the US, through platforms such as Apple’s iTunes and the Foxtel pay TV service.
According to an article published by TorrentFreak in early April, the first episode of the third season of the hit TV series had been downloaded over a million times illegally via the BitTorrent file-sharing platform at that point, with a record number of people sharing the episode.
Australia was the third most prevalent nation for Game of Thrones downloads, according to the site, with some 9.9 percent of those downloading the file residing in Australia. On a per capita basis, due to Australia’s small population, this means that Australia is the world’s most prolific nation when it comes to pirating Game of Thrones. “The number three spot for Australia is impressive and with a population of just over 22 million people it has the highest piracy rate,” wrote TorrentFreak. “Looking at other cities we see that most downloads come from London, before Paris and Sydney.”
The high rates of piracy have spurred calls form authorities such as US ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich for Australians to stop pirating the show and buy it legally. However, the only avenues for Australians to do so are to sign up for a costly ongoing Foxtel subscription, or to purchase it through iTunes at a rate of $33.99 per season — about the same price as buying the DVDs. IPTV streaming service Quickflix has also pledged to bring the show to Australia, but has not confirmed if it will stream Game of Thrones locally on a timely basis after each episode is aired in the US.
However, it was revealed this week that even the iTunes option would soon be denied to those fans who want to watch Game of Thrones on a similar timeline as US residents.
Asked about the issue, a Foxtel spokesperson told Delimiter this afternoon that in October last year, Foxtel had signed what it described at the time (media release here in PDF format) as “a landmark agreement” with the US cable giant, which would see HBO drama content come “first and fast to Foxtel”.
“Under the arrangement pay per view opportunities to see HBO dramas will be possible after the broadcast of the last program in a series,” Foxtel’s spokesperson said today. “However, in the case of season 3 of Game of Thrones and season 6 of True Blood (but not subsequent series of either show) pay per view is possible 24 hours after the broadcast of individual episodes.”
The deal effectively means — reading between Foxtel’s lines — that this current season 3 of Game of Thrones, as well as the current season of the similarly popular vampire drama True Blood — will be the last that will be available in Australia in a timely fashion through IPTV platforms such as iTunes, for individual purchase hours after each episode of the shows air in the US. Fans will eventually still be able to buy the shows online — but only after each season has finished, with Foxtel having a local monopoly on timely viewing of each episode.
The revelation has immediately been heavily criticised by commentators. Fairfax commentator and author John Birmingham wrote on his blog today: “Foxtel, oh Foxtel … Oh, no, let me guess. You figured that by removing a timely and legitimate method for viewers to watch the show within a couple of hours of its US release, you would force a handful of extra punters to take out one of your lousy subscriptions? Well here’s a slow, sad little golf clap for you, Foxtel.”
And Hydrapinion commentator Adam Turner stated his opinion that “for every new subscriber these HBO and BBC deals win I suspect that several other viewers will finally turn to the BitTorrent channel to source their favourite shows”.
What. A. Big. Fat. Fucking. Joke. Screw you, Foxtel. It doesn’t get much more anti-competitive than this. 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. Well screw that. I’m not personally going to pay for a whole pay TV package just because I want to watch one series from HBO. This may be enough for me to boycott the series altogether, or I may just buy the Blu-rays in a few years’ time. I’ve read the books a few times anyway, so no great loss.
While I’m on this rant, screw you, HBO, just as much as Foxtel. Why the hell a cable TV operator like HBO would want to lock up its content exclusively to a single company in a market such as Australia really beats me. Isn’t about producing content all about having people consume it? Ultimately, of course, what it probably comes down to is money. Foxtel has no doubt thrown down a huge wad of cash for HBO to gorge itself on — likely far more than HBO would get through individuals buying Game of Thrones on iTunes or through selling Game of Thrones through free to air TV stations.
It’s great news for Foxtel, and great news for HBO. The only stakeholder which loses out here is the actual Australians who want to watch Game of Thrones. But then … when have they mattered to such large companies? And the inevitable will result: I suspect many people reading this article right now are thinking: “Righty-oh-then. BitTorrent it is.”
Image credit: Still from Game of Thrones