Wednesday 23 July 2014

Australia vs. Westeros (VOR #21)

Spoiler alert for Game of Thrones Season 4

Yo ho ho and a bottle of Bundy - Australia's tendency for pirating Game of Thrones (and the lack of viable alternatives) makes me wonder: is not paying for content ever justified?

Tyrion Lannister, as played by Peter Dinklage
Game of Thrones - is there another show currently airing that regularly generates as much discussion across a wide audience? The Walking Dead (maybe), Doctor Who (sometimes)...but Game of Thrones, in my opinion, is the king (pun intended) of TV right now.

I don't even watch the show (I intend to at some point), and I consider its reign over other shows to be undisputed. The chatter it generates is pretty much inescapable, whether it is on social media or by the water cooler at work. Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow,  - household names alongside Homer Simpson, Tony Soprano and Don Draper.

The show highly controversial in Australia, but not in the way you'd think. Sure, the constant barrage of boobs and bums is controversial without question, but it's the piracy that the show spawns amongst Ozzies which is the most talked about topic right now.

This is because Australia has a problem with pirates and not sexy Johnny Depp kind either. Pirates are everywhere Down Under; in our streets, our schools and even our homes. If you walk down the street, you'll probably see dozens of pirates. And something has to change for this rampant piracy to stop.

I'm talking internet piracy of course, and the Australian public's desire to see shows like Game of Thrones mere minutes after the US for free that is causing it to grow. It's spreading like wildfire, fuelled by idiotic corporate decisions locking the show into cable TV, a lack of alternatives and the immense amount of hype each episode generates.

First, let me explain the situation. In Australia, Game of Thrones airs on Foxtel, which is a paid monthly subscription service that starts at $49 a month and tops out at a ludicrously lavish $124 a month for a 'Platinum' subscription. It doesn't air anywhere else. No syndication to free-to-air at a later date and no easily accessible, cheap alternative like Netflix* or Hulu. The show is even inaccessible on the iTunes store until after the entire season has aired, being released in one big lump rather than week-on-week. 

This effectively means that there are no other alternatives for fans of Game of Thrones than to purchase a lock-in monthly subscription to Foxtel. Regardless of the fact they might not be interested in anything other than GoT, it's $49 a month or go suck it.

Emilia Clarke plays fiery dragon queen
Daenarys Targaryen
Right now you're probably thinking 'boo hoo, poor Australians' but the problem gets worse. This situation has in turn lead to the rise of a very prevalent pirate culture in Australia, as I've mentioned. The season 4 finale to Game of Thrones was the most pirated/torrented thing in the history of ever here in Australia, with over 2 million downloads within 24 hours. That's 10% of Australians deciding to don eye patches and attach peg legs over some show about dragon, sex and blood.

Of course, Game of Thrones isn't alone. A lack of pay-for-what-you-watch services (or cheap streaming apps) means that Aussies are taking to torrent sites to download everything we can get our hands on.

Foxtel stands firm on its business model for Game of Thrones and is showing no sign of altering the deal to suit consumers. I mean, are we really getting it that bad? It's not like the wait time between the US premiere and airing on Foxtel is long - it's the next day Some shows like House of Cards are getting a good showing, but to many consumers, that doesn't excuse the 'extortionate' prices.

Interestingly, one of the leading consumer groups here in Australia has thrown their support behind illegal torrenting, saying that Foxtel has an outdated business model that is fatally flawed. It's hard to disagree with them, but I still don't agree with depriving the content creators of revenue. If you love and support something like a TV show, aren't you morally obligated to pay for it? Sure, you can disagree with how Foxtel runs its business as much as you like, but that doesn't stop you from rightfully purchasing Game of Thrones when it hits shelves in Blu-ray form or is finally added to the iTunes Store.

So where does that leaves us? In an awkward in-between where a sizeable portion of the population are perfectly happy illegally downloading material and not much is being done about it. Torrenting culture is so prevalent, introducing penalties would be like trying to ban smoking or alcohol, or for a more radical spin, breathing. It's not Foxtel who's missing out here, they could easily switch up their plans to fit consumer needs and barely dent their profit margins. In fact, working to fit consumers might improve them.

A poster for season 4 of Game of Thrones
It's the show makers, the artists, the production crew and everyone in the industry that misses out. I don't want to get all high and mighty on this topic, I'm guilty of not paying for content from time to time myself. But when I can, I do. I like owning what I watch. I own plenty of shows on DVD - Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Community, Modern Family, Friends, Fresh Meat, Parks and Rec, Arrow...the list goes on.

What it boils down to this; you aren't obligated to watch Game of Thrones right away. You will not become a social outcast for having not seen the latest episode. Avoiding spoilers is not impossible, just log out of Twitter for 24 hours, and it'll all blow over. Your attitude of "I'm being deprived of entertainment, therefore not paying for it is totally cool" is not always justified. If you are happy to pay for the Blu-ray later on, just do that. Your life will not end for having not seen the most recent season, I'm sure you can wait a few months for the DVD to arrive. It's exactly what I'm having to do with Arrow and Community and pretty much everything (sans a few) that I watch.

The comment below was the inspiration for this post and has been taken from a entertainment blog post regarding exactly this issue (I've kept the commenter and site nameless). Let's see what they have to say;

"Our pay TV subscription model in Australia is terrible and I'm unable to afford $80 per month for 1 show." - that's fair enough, you can't afford it. It's only 1 show, you should be able to purchase the content you like.

"I believe we have a right to convenient entertainment that is being afforded to most of the western world" - Um, no. You lost me. You don't have 'the right' to entertainment. It's a luxury. You don't have the right to Game of Thrones the same way you have the right to freedom of speech, food and water. Not being able to afford to pay for something because it's priced to high doesn't make not paying for it okay. Just like how I can't just steal a Porsche and get away with it.

"To an extent, if our theft forces our television distribution models to change and subsequently increase the revenue to creative outlets in the future, surely this is some level of justification?" - Yes and no. Yes, you are forcing changes to the system. No, that does not make it okay to continue illegally downloading stuff and deprive the industry that makes said entertainment. 
"I think its not that we want to steal, its just that we often aren't provided any other options." - Yes, you are. Games of Thrones Season 4 is out now on iTunes in Australia, and will be out on DVD soon. It only finished airing last month, you couldn't wait a few weeks? There are other options, you're just impatient and lazy.

What I'm trying to say is, don't be a dick; up-to-date knowledge for Game of Thrones (or any other major shows) is not a necessity. If your being priced out of the market, then you'll just have to wait. Yes, something needs to change in the way the show, and Foxtel in general is priced to consumers. But until then, feeding this "I have the right to things I want because I can't be arsed waiting" attitude will bring about tighter restrictions down the track as companies try to squash piracy.

It's a tough one, I know. We're all guilty of it, and we all want to be in the loop. But there are more ethical, morally-right ways to get around it that trying to justify stealing with a bullshit, toddlerish "but I really wanna" excuse. Better still, pick up the books! If you get something spoiled for you, it's not the end of the world. Just calm your tits, okay?. You'll get by having not seen the bit where Tywin Lannister gets killed by Tyrion.


*Note: Access to Netflix is available in Australia, if you wrangle the system and claim to be a US resident.

What are your thoughts on torrented TV and restrictive lock-in cable contracts? Let me know below!

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