The most anticipated television show of the year has finally aired, smashing records in the US; not only on the ye ‘olde television set but online as well. With the season premiere shown three times in the one night on HBO, around 6.7 million people in the US watched one of the three airings. This doesn’t include more than one person sitting around the TV, so the figure could very well be more.
In Australia, the show is “fast-tracked” onto Foxtel each week. While this next statement could cause arguments in itself, Australia’s free-to-air television has pretty substantial quality on its own without the need to pay for a cable service.
Cue the new record that TV aims to break: the premiere episode was estimated to have been downloaded at least one million times (illegally) in less than a day through BitTorrent. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t downloaded through other websites, so again the figure could very well be much more, especially since there’s no way to know how many people passed the file on to another in person via USB. The only TV show to beat this record was the very first episode of Heroes back in 2006.
A quick technical lesson that won’t be too technical before I continue.
BitTorrent is a way of downloading files that uses the practice of peer-to-peer file sharing. It is used for distributing large amounts of data over the Internet; typically movies, television shows and software (like Windows, Microsoft Office or Photoshop).
Peer-to-peer means that one person uploads a movie for people to download. Once people have downloaded it, they are also sharing parts of the file for other people to download. This means that everyone who is downloading is also part of the “server” for you to get files. This is called a swarm, so the more people uploading and downloading bits of a movie, the bigger the swarm.
Game of Thrones made a very, very big swarm.
Technically this is illegal; all of these people could have hopped on to iTunes and downloaded the episode for $3. In Australia, where we have plenty of free-to-air channels, we seem to take the mentality of “why would I pay?” Why buy the cow when I can have the milk for free? I’m not getting Foxtel, sifting through MTV’s Jersey Shore marathons just to watch Game of Thrones. I’ve read the books, I know what happens anyway!
Movie and television studios and record labels are notorious for telling us that they are losing money because of online piracy. I guess it makes sense that they would be losing money, but I have no idea how much fluff there is in that statement. HBO’s own programming president Michael Lombardo said himself that he finds the free downloading a huge compliment to the show and that it does not affect DVD sales.
This is true. If the show is good enough it will gather a merchandise-crazy fan-base and GoT merchandise is everywhere. So how are they losing money? Is it money that isn’t going into the back pockets of the big-wigs at the studios?
Here is my argument: make a good enough show or movie and people will pay. They will either buy tickets, the DVD, a poster, a figurine… people are actually happy to pay. I don’t need my Stark scarf, yet I have one. But I won’t pay for a bad show.