"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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

0800 7318496