Game of Thrones and legality: You're screwed because there is a system

Game of Thrones is massively popular on the Internet to the tune of almost 4 million illegal downloads per episode. TorrentFreak report that each episode garners a torrent viewership of 3,900,000 viewers globally, while the number of people watching it legally in the US is 4,200,000. Of course, legal viewership of the show also increases when you consider international broadcasts, streaming on the US HBO Go service, DVD/Bluray, and sales on iTunes. Regardless, 3,900,000 viewers is a significant number of people illegally accessing Game of Thrones. Especially here in Australia.

Recent figures, again provided by TorrentFreak, suggest that 10.1% of these downloads come from Australia. That means that (generally speaking) over the first few days of the week, 393,000+ Australians are watching the show illegally downloaded from the Internet. It’s probably safe to assume that this is a great deal more than the number of people tuning in to watch the show legally on Foxtel or via iTunes.

At a recent University of Melbourne seminar, AFACT chief Neil Cane stated that members of his anti-piracy lobby group felt that the impatience that Australian downloaders felt was “unreasonable”. Additionally, as ITnews have cited, Cane was “unable to address iTnews’ question on whether or not piracy rates were lower on shows that were fast-tracked to Australia”.

With the Game of Thrones calendar, you can count how many days between the US airing and the one in your local region.

Is Cane right? Are local viewers unreasonable in expecting a faster turnaround? While there is no doubt that local broadcasters have been good about increasing the turnaround time for many popular series (Foxtel, in particular, have been great in regards to this for content that airs on Fox 8 and on the PMP-run Showcase channel), should viewers really be expected to have to wait patiently for a local outlet to broadcast a show while the conversation about the content of the show thrives online? It’s worth considering that in this day of 24/7 Internet and social connectivity, we’re now living in a global community. It is perfectly reasonable to understand that some members of the community might feel restless when denied access to something as benign as a television show when they can watch others enjoying and discussing it. It also heavily cuts into and ruins people’s engagement with a show.So, what can be done to remedy the situation?

Pointing the finger at PMP (the company that run the Foxtel channel Showcase that airs Game of Thrones in Australia is unfair. I’d assume they’re not happy to hear that so many Australians are illegally downloading the show they maintain the rights to. HBO will not release transmission material until after the US broadcast, meaning they are at the whims of HBO. Keep in mind that Showcase, despite having access to more money and infrastructure than your average viewer, is a broadcaster and have to engage with each broadcasted episode in a manner that differs to the way that a viewer may download a file from the Internet.

Showcase need to:

  • Download the HD file from the HBO serverQuality assess and prepare the file for broadcast.
  • Subtitle the show for the hearing impaired (an external company handles this).
  • Have the show classified. One of the devilish aspects of the show that viewers love is the way the show pushes boundaries with violence and nudity. Often its content falls into the R classification. Under Federal legislation Foxtel would be in breach of its licence if it showed R material, so this show cannot be broadcast until it has been classified.
  • Send the files to Foxtel for ingestion into their broadcast server.I’m informed by Programming at Showcase that this process takes up to three days, particularly if a file turns out to be corrupt and a resend is required.

While some of these issues may seem trivial to the viewer that wants to just watch the show as soon as they can, for a commercial broadcaster, these are serious issues that need to be considered and dealt with.iTunes is also a consideration, but it is worth noting that Apple are unable to broadcast Game of Thrones once it has aired on the local partner broadcaster in each territory.

It is worth considering the fact that the global conversation that surrounds TV shows and the ease of access associated with downloading a TV show has only been a relatively recent issue. Traditional TV distributors are still finding their way around the issue of international distribution in regards to this problem.

Fox International have been the only distributors to make some serious noise in relation to shrinking the time windows associated with getting the TV shows into the hands of their international partners. Touch, American Horror Story, and The Walking Dead are three of their marquee shows that they have promoted their efforts on to get the shows onto international TV screens.

For the launch of the second season of The Walking Dead, Sharon Tal Yguado from Fox International stated:

The Walking Dead audience wants to see this show live. The first season became a hyped global water cooler event and we feel obligated to bring the show to international viewers right after its US launch.”

In Australia, the launch of season 2 was delayed by the launch of our local fx channel on Foxtel, which commenced the same week of the lunch. Their decision to kick off with the yet-unaired season 1 of The Walking Dead delayed the airing of the 2nd season, but I’d assume that with season 3 we’ll see a more concerted effort to get the show on air here quicker.

Fox International have been trailblazers in regard to this, but it’s likely we’ll see other distributors follow suit. Hopefully HBO will be one of these.

Is it unreasonable that viewers want to be a part of the global conversation that surrounds Game of Thrones within just a few days of broadcast? Heavens no. The way technology dictates our social lives now, it is a ridiculous notion to suggest. That said, much needs to change within the infrastructure and mindsets associated with TV distribution for same-day releases to occur globally in that many international markets. The problem that exists in the system is that there is a system.

Content Director at Televised Revolution

Dan Barrett is the Content Director of Televised Revolution. His musings on television have been heard across ABC Radio, on websites like The Guardian and Crikey, and drunkenly in pubs across the country. At night he spends too many hours watching repeats of Cheers.

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