Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones.
If you're opposed to both Foxtel and the BitTorrent channel, are you prepared to wait months for your next taste of Game of Thrones?
The wait is over for Game of Thrones fans, with the Season 4 premiere screening on HBO in the US at 9 o'clock Sunday night. That works out as 11 o'clock Monday morning AEST, allowing for Australia's daylight savings change on the weekend. Expect to find the new episode of Game of Thrones uploaded to the BitTorrent channel soon after, if advance previews haven't already made their way online.
Surprisingly, Foxtel isn't offering an Australian simulcast – even though the Brits can watch a simulcast on Sky Atlantic at 2am in London. In Australia, Foxtel subscribers will have to wait until 3.30pm Monday afternoon, with a replay at 8.30pm for those of us who can't stop work in the middle of the afternoon just to check on the state of affairs in Westeros.
The four-hour delay obviously presents a challenge for Australian fans who are afraid of spoilers from overseas viewers. Depending on how much you trust the people you follow on Facebook and Twitter, you might need to declare a social media blackout until you get the chance to sit down and watch it some time today.
Avoiding spoilers for one day isn't impossible, but what about Game of Thrones fans who don't want to pay for Foxtel but refuse to resort to piracy? They have little alternative if they want to watch week-by-week this season. Thanks to HBO's deal with Foxtel, if you're watching via iTunes or Quickflix this year you can't even watch the first new episode until the middle of June when Foxtel has finished screening all 10 episodes of Season 4.
These online providers aren't keen to hand over exact stats, but Quickflix tells me that the last season of Game of Thrones accounted for 20 percent of its TV pay-per-episode streaming traffic. Meanwhile on the Australian iTunes store the Game of Thrones season pass and individual episodes often sat at the top of the download charts last year. That's a lot of people now looking for their Game of Thrones fix elsewhere. If they want to watch it on DVD or Blu-ray, they'll need to wait until February next year, going by the release schedule for previous seasons.
That's a long time to walk around with your fingers in your ears just in case someone lets slip that your favourite character met with a sticky end. Is there a statute of limitations on spoilers? With the rise of file-sharing, time-shifting and Catch Up TV there's no clear-cut answer, even though 90 percent of television is still watched live in Australia. In the age of time-shifting I think waiting a week is reasonable, but can you still apply that to Game of Thrones when some people have no choice but to wait for months?
So what are the alternatives? Sneaking into Netflix, Hulu or the US iTunes store won't help, because over there Game of Thrones is locked away on HBO. You can't even sign up for the HBO Go streaming service unless you have a home HBO subscription – which makes it hard for Aussies to bluff their way in unless they know someone willing to share their HBO Go login details.
Different pay TV services in various countries have struck different Game of Thrones deals with HBO, but they mostly seem to be with HBO affiliates. Even if they do have online-only services like Foxtel Play, and you can trick them into thinking you're a local, it might not work out that much cheaper. Some foreign HBO-branded services like HBO Nordic are only-online and might offer a better deal. Alternatively you might find countries where online video services still offer pay-per-view such as iTunes and Quickflix did in Australia last year, but once again it will take some trickery to get in. It's not unheard of, I know some Kiwis were buying Game of Thrones from iTunes Australia last year.
People with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo will tell you that side-stepping geoblocking and paying overseas is as bad as piracy, but I think that's a bit rich. Breaking terms and conditions, because the service provider refuses to take your money, isn't necessarily the same as breaking the law. When HBO and Foxtel deliberately stripped Australians of legit ways to watch Game of Thrones, you could argue they forfeited the right to complain when people take their money elsewhere.
The key to beating piracy is simple: give the people what they want, in an easy to consume format and at a reasonable price. If you make paying for content easier than stealing it, people will pay – the success of Netflix is testament to that. HBO's deal with Foxtel really seems designed to drive people to piracy. The question is, how long can Game of Thrones fans abstain before they succumb to either Foxel or the BitTorrent channel?
How will you watch Game of Thrones this season? Will you pay the gold price or pay the iron price, or will you play the waiting game?