I can tell you right now what the headlines will say on July 17.
“Australia has a piracy problem!”
Bet on it; that’s what happens the day after a new season of Game of Thrones premieres.
Like the program, illegal downloads of GoT are a global phenomenon. Last year, more than one million people around the world accessed illegal copies of Season 6, Episode 1, within 12 hours of the premiere screening on cable TV.
And Australians were at the front of that queue, making up 12.5 per cent of total BitTorrent downloads, bigger than any other country.
That’s despite the premiere episode breaking Foxtel audience records, with 727,000 viewers making it the most-watched show in Australian subscription TV history. Foxtel estimates that another half a million Australians illegally downloaded that and subsequent episodes.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the practice, the reason so many Australians illegally download GoT is pretty clear: Access is severely limited and the price is prohibitive when compared with costs elsewhere around the world.
Ben*, aged 24, is typical of a demographic that has been following GoT since it debuted in 2011. He’s watched it every year, as soon as each episode was released, and every time it’s been courtesy of an illegal download.
“I download Game of Thrones weekly because Showcase [Foxtel channel] is the only place I can legally watch it… And I just don’t have an extra $50 a month to spend on Foxtel when all I need it for is Game of Thrones,” he told Hatch.
Foxtel is, of course, the only platform that airs GoT in Australia because its exclusivity agreement with HBO essentially makes Game of Thrones inaccessible on other legal downloading sites like iTunes and Google Play until the entire season has aired.
The show also airs on streaming service HBO GO, however, Australians are geo-blocked from using it.
“I’m happy to pay for my content, I pay $8 a month for Netflix, I visit the cinemas at least twice a month and I’m a big collector of Blu-Rays,” said Ben.
“I would pay for Game of Thrones, but it’s difficult when the market is dominated by Foxtel. The media reports that Australia has a piracy problem… but the truth is, Australia has a content distribution and accessibility problem.”
Hatch contacted Foxtel to find out how to watch Game of Thrones in Australia.
A Foxtel subscription with a set-top box will set you back $46 per month. There’s also a $100 set-up fee to get you started. That comes to a minimum of $146 to watch Season Seven.
Australia’s Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act has tightened restrictions on illegal distribution of copyrighted content, forcing ISPs to block sites or access to sites that provide illegal content that circumvents copyright laws.
There is little to stop individuals accessing such material by using virtual private networks and foreign-based torrent providers, but the copyright owners have a right to sue for the value of material downloaded – if they can identify the offenders. So far this has proved impossible to carry out effectively (as in the case of the Dallas Buyers Club court action abandoned last year).
But rest assured Foxtel will continue to hate you if you download GoT, while the government is cooperating in attempts to block such devious acts.
Selena*, 20, also refuses to pay up to $25 a month to use Foxtel Now solely for watching Game of Thrones. Instead, she continues to illegally download the show.
“It’s just a rip off to be paying $15 to $25 a month to watch those 7 or 10 episodes,” Selena told Hatch.
“Foxtel and television, in general, is irrelevant to a lot of young people nowadays because we have Netflix and streaming on demand – we have the means to watch virtually anything immediately.
“In a time where we can instantly stream from a huge range of TV shows, documentaries, and movies, it’s actually insane to expect consumers to subscribe to a $25 a month service just to watch one single show – even with how popular Game of Thrones is.”
Dragonstone, Episode 1 of Game of Thrones’ seventh season, premieres at 11 am on July 17. – Jessica Staveley
* Names have been changed.