I love the show Game of Thrones on HBO. The show is fantastic. It’s one of the best shows to come along in a while. It’s exciting, sexy, complicated, and it has just a touch of fantasy thrown in, mainly to keep you guessing about the possibilities of what’s to come. In the first episodes of the first season, did you really expect to see dragons? But then that platinum blond Khaleesi woman steps out of the fire completely naked with a dragon on her shoulder and it was the probably the coolest thing I have ever seen on television. Wait, have you seen Game of Thrones? If you haven’t, you should subscribe to HBO right now so you can start watching.
That’s right, I said it. Subscribe to HBO. Buy a TV to go with your fancy MacBook (disclosure: by day I work for Samsung, but I’m typing this on a fancy MacBook Pro). Subscribe to a preposterously expensive cable service. Add HBO for an extra $15 per month. Then, start watching. See? That was easy.
Whenever people get all huffy about the problems with content distribution, Game of Thrones is usually the prime culprit. This was made famous in a Web comic by The Oatmeal. The dude tries to watch the show on Netflix. Then he tries to buy it on iTunes. Then Amazon. And so on, until he ends up pirating the show.
First of all, good luck with that. I stopped downloading any pirated content about 5 years ago, when I was caught and sent a nastygram by my cable company. But it wasn’t really the cable company who caught me. It was HBO. I was trying to download The Wire. The warning I received said they were not pressing charges immediately, but they wanted me to stop and destroy my copies. They also reserved the right to sue me at any point in the future. I’m probably in the clear, but hopefully this screed will go some way to convincing HBO that I’m completely on their side. I have seen the error in my ways.
See, when you buy a CD, for instance, you probably thought you were buying the music. But actually, you were buying the plastic, and a license to play the music at certain times, and for certain audiences. Want to play the CD in your car? No problem. Want to play the CD in your bar? Now you have to pay up. There are certain allowances that the courts have approved to bend the rules. You can make one backup copy of your purchased media. You can make mix tapes with songs. You can rip music you purchased to your computer.
Unfortunately, by the time digital video went mainstream, the entertainment industry had learned its lesson. There’s gold in them thar hills. The more you restrict the license for content, the more money you can make as people are forced to sign up for more services, or buy more copies of a video.
It sucks. I won’t dispute that. I’d like to see much more free and open licensing, if not complete freedom to do with my digital purchases as I wish. If I bought Star Wars on VHS tape, I should be able to pay a small fee, for manufacturing and distribution and such, to get that movie again on DVD. Then pay a little more for Blu Ray. I paid for it once, now I should only have to pay for the plastic. And if I want a digital copy, I should pay only for the bandwidth. That would be awesome.
But that’s not the way it works, and the arguments I have heard are stupid. Waaaaaahhhh, I can’t get the show I want, so I have to break the law. Waaaahhhh, the awesome show isn’t available on one of the four services I use, so I have to steal it. Waaaaahhhh, HBO is evil for not giving me exactly what I want, how I want it, when I want to see it.
Shut up. Grow up. Stop acting so entitled.
I would love to see Roger Waters perform “The Wall,” but the tour doesn’t come within 5 hours of my house. So, should I have someone bootleg it for me? An actor friend is in a movie that’s only showing now in New York and Los Angeles. Do I pay for a copy off the street? Do I cry because the only place to see the Mona Lisa is The Louvre?
This is how art works. Art is not just a finished product. It’s also a moment in time, and a reflection of that moment. Sometimes, you have to be there. Art also has to make money. We don’t have huge patron families like the De Medici’s funding massive cathedrals anymore. Government arts funding is not enough, especially not in the U.S. So, sometimes the best shows need to be exclusive, if they are going to be created at all. When you steal those shows, you’re slimming the chances of ever seeing content so fantastic ever again.
The best way to see Game of Thrones? Subscribe to HBO, like the rest of us. Maybe you don’t think the price of the show is worth the subscription. But there’s also a ton of other great content on that channel, and on other cable channels. I really wanted to watch the show Homeland when everyone was talking about it, but I didn’t subscribe to Showtime. So, one long weekend while I was home visiting my parents, I hunkered down in their basement and watched every show on demand. It was pretty good, though not as great as everyone says. Then I started catching up with Dexter on Netflix, and hit a wall when Netflix didn’t have the newest episodes. So, the next time I moved and started service with a new cable provider, I subscribed to HBO and Showtime. If they stop showing content I like, or if it’s too few and far between to be worthwhile, I’ll stop.
But let’s not pretend we don’t understand the game. My response is exactly what HBO wants, nothing more and nothing less. They have crunched the numbers, I’m sure. Game of Thrones is driving subscriptions. A lineup of great original content makes people want to subscribe. I have yet to hear a convincing economic argument that says they should break away from this model. If they could make more money offering the show on one of YOUR favorite services, they would do that.
Pay for the art you want to see. Don’t expect sympathy when you whine and complain that you can’t get what you want. Art is special. Art is worthwhile. But as long as artists have to make a living off of their work, art cannot be free.