"Take my money, HBO!": Why you won't be able to watch Game of Thrones online anytime soon in the UK

Why HBO don't want your money.

Take My Money, HBO is a growing online campaign aimed at getting HBO, the American subscriber-TV network and home of the Sopranos, Game of Thrones and Curb Your Enthusiasm, to provide those without American cable, both "cord-cutters" and international audiences, a way to pay directly for the channels HBO streams through its HBOGO online service.

Currently, you can only receive HBOGO – the company's equivalent of BBC's iPlayer – if you subscribe to a participating American cable channel. Which isn't the best thing to tell people who want to move all their TV viewing online, or who don't actually live in America.

There are other ways to get HBO content, of course; you can wait until the DVD box set comes out, or buy it from iTunes once it is released there. But both of those are on a huge delay; the downloads and DVDs for Game of Thrones were finally made available this March, 11 months after the series started airing.

Alternatively, there is piracy. The day after most episodes aired, they were available in HD, for free, on sites like The Pirate Bay.

Clearly, that's not optimal. This comic, from earlier this year, neatly sums up the issues many had: Programs have aired, people are talking about them, but without a 1990s-style TV set-up, you can't actually watch them legally.

Hence, "Take My Money". The site asks users to tweet at HBOGO the amount they would be willing to pay for a subscription to the service; the average suggestiong is around $12 a month, according to TechCrunch

The business rationale at the first instance seems compelling. Digitopoly's Joshua Gans explains:

HBO has 29 million subscribers in the US paying around $10 per month. HBO receives $8 of that. That would seem to suggest that HBO couldn’t lose by offering a $12 per month subscription.

The fear for the company could be that, if they made another way to access their content, the cable companies would reduce their cut of the premium. But as Gans points out, in the US, where cable is the main form of broadband, most will keep a subscription of some sort anyway, and internationally, many have no option to get HBO at all.

The bigger problem is that HBO is far more intricately tied-up in the standard model of TV distribution than they might like to be. For one thing, it is in fact owned by Time Warner, the American broadcasting giant. For another, as Dan Frommer points out, there simply isn't the right infrastructure for such a thing to happen. HBO would have to support every major video game console, Mac OS, Windows, and probably Apple TV just to have a hope of getting on enough TV screens to even pay the money it cost to set up the system, let alone recoup the lost revenue from cancelled subscriptions.

And internationally the situation isn't much better. In the UK, Sky has forked out a reported £150m for a five-year exclusive with HBO; you can bet they wouldn't have paid nearly that much if it was available to anyone paying £10 online.

All of which means that if you are in the small (but likely over-represented in the New Statesman's readership) percentage of the UK population which watches barely any TV except for high-quality US imports, you are likely to have to carry on waiting or pirating for some time. Disruption may come to the market, but unless they are forced to, HBO just aren't going to take your moeny.

The Iron Throne from Game of Thrones

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from surplus into deficit. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May is at the Treasury, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.