Game of Thrones triggers power struggles both on and off the screen. Photo: supplied
After waiting patiently for months, iTunes customers probably won't see Game of Thrones Season 4 until next year.
HBO's exclusive deal with Foxtel stopped local competitors like iTunes and Quickflix offering week-by-week episodes of Game of Thrones in Australia this year. Rivals couldn't even offer the first episode of Season 4 until Foxtel finished screening entire season, which wrapped up on Monday. By Tuesday morning Quickflix and Google Play had all of Season 4 online, but it's still missing from the Australian iTunes store and Apple doesn't want to talk about it.
As strange as it sounds, Australians don't appreciate how good they've had it when it comes to Game of Thrones.
When I asked Apple's Australian PR team on Monday about plans to release the new episodes of Game of Thrones on the iTunes store I was told to "reach out to the content owners directly" – which is the kind of answer we've come to expect from Apple when it doesn't want to talk about something. It's a response which implies that HBO or local distributor Warner Bros is to blame for the situation, rather than Apple.
Following Apple's advice I did reach out to Warner Bros, which supplies Game of Thrones to Quickflix and Google Play. The Warner Bros Australian PR team put the ball squarely back in Apple's court;
"That is a question you would have to ask iTunes. Game of Thrones Season 4 is available for all of our digital partners from June 17th."
It's a response which strongly implies that Game of Thrones Season 4 is available to Apple in Australia, but it's chosen not to take it. Why? Warner Bros didn't want to discuss it further and my followup calls to Apple PR are yet to yield an answer. I don't expect to get one, even though I think iTunes customers are entitled to one.
So when will Australian iTunes customers see Game of Thrones Season 4 and what will they do in the meantime?
It's worth noting that the new season of Game of Thrones isn't available on the US iTunes store either. Unlike Australia, the US store didn't offer Season 3 week-by-week last year. It held out until January – coinciding with the DVD/Blu-ray release. It's likely that Apple will take the same approach to Season 4 in both the US and Australia, sticking to the DVD/Blu-ray release date of January 2015.
Unfortunately Australian Game of Thrones fans are caught up in a turf war between two industry heavyweights. It's a classic old verus new-media struggle, with HBO and Apple each playing hardball to show that they won't be dictated to by the other. If Apple can't have Game of Thrones week-by-week then it's not going to leap when HBO finally throws it a bone, even if it means leaving customers in the lurch.
As strange as it sounds, Australians don't appreciate how good they've had it when it comes to Game of Thrones. In the US you can't even watch it on the HBO GO streaming service unless you have a home HBO subscription, unlike here where there's the option of Foxtel Play.
For now Apple's delay is costing HBO lost sales, although this is offset by the extra money Foxtel paid HBO for exclusive rights to Season 4. Of course the delay is also costing Apple lost sales, with some of those customers turning to Quickflix and Google Play for their Game of Thrones fix. Of course others will certainly turn to BitTorrent in disgust at the fact that Apple is putting its power struggle with HBO ahead of the needs of its customers who waited patiently for the season to finish screening on Foxtel. An industry which is quick to complain about piracy seems to be doing its best to drive away paying customers.
To be fair to Apple, these kinds of deals are never black and white. HBO does have a history of refusing to play nicely with others when it comes to Game of Thrones. The recent deal between HBO and Amazon in the US specifically excludes Game of Thrones in order to thwart cable cutters looking to abandon their HBO subscription. HBO knows Game of Thrones is the Ace up its sleeve.
Apple and HBO/Warner Bros can point the finger at each other all they like, but it doesn't change the fact that Apple should at least be honest with its customers about what's happening with Game of Thrones. For now it looks like Australian iTunes customers need to go elsewhere to catch up on the latest happenings in Westeros.
Were you waiting for iTunes to offer Season 4 of Game of Thrones? What will you do now?
Read more posts from Adam Turner's Gadgets on the Go blog.