"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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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

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