Being the world’s most pirated TV show might be a somewhat dubious honor, but it’s definitely a sign that there are a lot of people who want to watch HBO’s historical fantasy series Game of Thrones – even if they don’t want to pay for the privilege.
It’s a subject that became the topic of hot debate back in 2012, after webcomic The Oatmeal published a cartoon titled ‘I tried to watch Game of Thrones and this is what happened‘. It chronicles the online adventures of a young man who, credit card at the ready, is attempting to find a legitimate way to watch Game of Thrones through any means necessary – except, of course, by buying cable and actually subscribing to HBO. After searching on iTunes, Amazon and Hulu and having no luck (and, as mentioned before, being unwilling to get cable and subscribe to HBO), the character pirates the show with an easy conscience.
Somewhat ironically, a legal disclaimer at the bottom of the page states that the comic strip is copyrighted material, adding “Please don’t steal.”
One of the apparent effects that this cartoon had was to turn a lot of people into experts on how to run television network overnight. The Internet has been flooded with smug, condescending articles explaining that HBO just don’t “get it“; that by not making Game of Thrones episodes available immediately on demand with an Amazon Prime or Netflix type of service, the network was losing out on an influx of cash from pirates who really, really want to pay for Game of Thrones, but just aren’t being given enough opportunities to do so.
Piracy has been an oft-debated issue, even among people who should by all rights be opposed to it for business reasons. Speaking in a 2011 interview with The Cambridge Student, Gabe Newell, CEO of the digital video game distribution company Steam, said that much of piracy is owed to pirates offering a better service than legitimate providers.
“If a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate’s service is more valuable.”
It’s just common sense, isn’t it? All HBO needs to do is do away with the old-fashioned notion of cable subscriptions, catch up to the modern age, and enjoy the flood of money from former pirates who are finally able to hand over the money that they’ve been so eagerly clutching in their fists. After all, there’s an obvious pattern going on here: just look at the world’s second-most pirated show in 2014, which was… Orange is the New Black.
Here’s where the theory starts to fall down, because Netflix actually offers a better service than pirates do. Netflix shows are generally available to watch in their entirety from the initial release date, and the service is available to anyone with an internet connection and a device with a screen. It also has the edge over piracy by not requiring third-party software like BitTorrent and being available to watch on any computer, phone or tablet in North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand and many countries in Europe, without the need to carry around storage devices.
It’s difficult to convincingly plead poverty when it comes to Netflix shows, because the service costs a measly $8.99 a month with a free trial for the first month. If even that feels like too much, people can always share an account with three other friends and pay just $2.25 a month. Short of literally just giving its media away, it’s hard to imagine how Netflix could make Orange is the New Black more accessible and affordable. So why are so many people still pirating it?
The answer to that is a bit murky, because there are a lot of pirates in the world with a lot of different motivations, but it can probably be boiled down to this: there are a lot of people who want to watch Orange is the New Black, and a lot of those people don’t want to pay for it. One of those clauses is the most important, and it’s not the latter one.