HBO, the Internet, and TV

As befitting any fantasy nerd, I am a big fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books. I am also a fan of the HBO series, Game of Thrones. And it looks like I’m not the only one. In fact, it looks like Game of Thrones is on track to be the most pirated show in 2012. At the same time, HBO co-president, Eric Kessler, says watching TV over the internet is a fad. I don’t think he could be any more wrong.

High-speed internet is spreading rapidly. Electronic devices are becoming increasingly linked to the internet. I can stream television programs directly to my television. People are dropping high-priced cable to switch to TV-over-the-internet. Netflix is developing original programming and YouTube is allowing people to create channels for programming (as I described here). Apple is developing AppleTV. Everything is pointing in this direction. And yet HBO drags its heels, making it near impossible to view HBO programming over the internet, even if you subscribe to HBO. What’s the result? People pirating Game of Thrones, perhaps most amusingly demonstrated by this Oatmeal comic (very funny, but some NSFW language towards the bottom).

So what is the problem? HBO fears piracy, but the way I see it, there are two types of pirates. The first group contains people who will pirate anything, any time because they don’t want to pay. You will likely never change this behavior. However, I also believe this is a small audience. The second group contains people who want to pay for quality content, but the content providers either make it impossible to do so, or treat buying customers like criminals from the get-go. This second group is far larger, and content-providers can change their behavior. How? By treating them well. Make it easy for them to pay you. Once they buy your content, let them control it. No walled gardens, no DRM, no nonsense. Wil Wheaton says it much better here:

So I’ll keep watching Game of Thrones over my cable system for now, but until HBO wises up and moves into the future, people will continue to pirate the show. But don’t take that as a sign that you can’t beat piracy. Instead, realize people will pay for good content. For example, everyone did not pirate the Avengers; instead, they watched it in the theaters. Just realize people can be convinced not to pirate. Look to the comedians. Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari, and Jim Gaffigan sell their specials direct to consumers without DRM. They make a ton of money, and their fans love them for making things easy. They are the future. HBO? You’re the past.