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You Probably Won’t Ever Be Able To Pay For An HBO GO Subscription And Here’s Why

It had the makings of an old comedy routine: “Take my money, please!” In reality, it was a plea by fans of HBO original programming like Game of Thrones and True Blood, to get the paid cable network to offer their HBO GO service without an HBO subscription. Sounds like a simple solution to a problem as big as piracy but like most things in life, it’s not that simple. Hit the jump to read about the informal survey that asked people how much they would pay for such a service as well as what HBO had to say when they heard about it. 

We’ve discussed piracy, specifically in terms of Game of Thrones, on The Mary Sue before and I’m pretty vocal about it personally. I think it’s wrong. End of story. I think people make all sorts of justifications to themselves about why doing something blatantly illegal is ok but to me, it’s not. It doesn’t matter how much money X,Y, or Z company has, you are still stealing from them and the creators of said product. Yes, we all want what we want, when we want it, but the bottom line is, entertainment is not a basic human need. I can argue for you stealing food if you’re starving, I can’t argue for you stealing an episode of television because you wanted it before you saw spoilers online. I’m not undervaluing the impact entertainment has on our lives, I’m just pointing out that it’s not a necessity for you to live. And yes, I completely understand people would love for an alternate, legal way to get the content they want (and get it fast) but the alternative to that not existing should not be to steal it.

The most logical idea so far to prevent users from torrenting HBO shows is to allow access to HBO GO for a monthly service charge. If you aren’t familiar, HBO GO is a way to watch the network’s shows via the computer, phones, tablets, and other mobile devices. Currently, it’s only available to those who already subscribe to HBO through their cable provider. And yes, it is seriously handy to have around. But HBO is pretty expensive when you consider what you have to actually agree to in order to get it on your television. Ryan Lawler from TechCrunch recently reported on a survey conducted by web designer Jake Caputo to see how much people would pay for just HBO GO.

The average answer was around $12.

Caputo reported his results on the website he created,, by using Twitter as an indicator. “Caputo’s site received more than 12,000 visits in just the first two hours, and it set off a string of tweets declaring just how much users would pay for a standalone HBO GO subscription,” writes Lawler. Caputo then got some help from coder Dominic Balasuriya to make sure he could track the information accurately. “Using the Twitter API, his script grabbed the most recent 1,500 tweets that mentioned the #takemymoneyhbo hashtag. It ignored retweets, and grabbed the dollar amount given. Any tweets that said they’d pay more than $50 were also ignored, since some were obviously intentionally high to skew the results.”

It may not be perfect, or have a huge reach, but the numbers give some great information. Information you’d think would open HBO’s eyes. HBO heard it loud and clear but isn’t ready to make the big leap on that information alone. They tweeted, “Love the love for HBO. Keep it up. For now, @RyanLawler @TechCrunch has it right: ‪#takemymoneyHBO‬.”

When they said Lawler had it right, they didn’t mean it was a great idea (maybe part of them did), they meant the bit where he said it wasn’t financially feasible for the company.

HBO currently has about 29 million subscribers, and reportedly receives around $7 or $8 per subscriber per month. So HBO could, theoretically, get more per subscriber than it’s currently making. But that doesn’t include the cost of infrastructure needed to support delivery of all those streams, including all the CDN delivery and other costs that would come with rolling out a broader online-only service.

More importantly, it wouldn’t include the cost of sales, marketing, and support — and this is where HBO would really get screwed. Going direct to online customers by pitching HBO GO over-the-top would mean losing the support of its cable, satellite, and IPTV distributors. And since the Comcasts and the Time Warner Cables of the world are the top marketing channel for premium networks like HBO, it would be nearly impossible for HBO to make up for the loss of the cable provider’s marketing team or promotions.

People think that just because HBO hasn’t utilized what most see as a win-win solution, that they are just being stubborn or are stuck in the dark ages but that’s not necessarily true. What most people ignore is the current infrastructure of networks like HBO and Showtime mentioned above. And that, like pretty much every other entertainment provider out there, HBO doesn’t want to be the cause of more people canceling their cable subscriptions and screwing over the cable companies who have helped them stay afloat this long.

But seeing all this information won’t stop a lot of pirates because although they could wait for said series to be released on DVD, they want it now. Many excuse their torrenting by saying they purchase the DVDs afterward because they liked it so much but what about the shows they torrent that they don’t like enough to purchase them afterward?

I’m not saying HBO and others won’t figure out a way for this to work for them (because, let’s face it, they are a business) and us in the future but right now, using their lack of an immediately solution to validate piracy isn’t a valid excuse in my mind. For many, it is. Food for thought.

(via TechCrunch, The Hollywood Reporter)

Previously in Piracy Issues

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  • Rebecca Ramsey

    Okay, but this still doesn’t make sense to me. If HBO makes 7 or 8 dollars per subscriber, per month, at 29 million subscribers, right NOW, and people who are not currently paying for HBO would be willing to pay an average of 12 dollars a month . . . This math seems wrong. Netflix currently has 26 million subscribers and is not churning out new, GoT-quality TV shows. If HBO were to turn to HBO-GO as its primary platform, charging 12 dollars per subscription, then at that price it could afford to lose NINE MILLION subscribers and still be making as much as it is now. And that’s not figuring in all the people online who are not currently subscribed and would- supposedly – be willing to pay up to 12 dollars a month for HBO. In addition, HBO could add its old, cancelled shows to HBO go and run like a Netflix-esque service, thus making itself even more of a tempting option.

    But all that aside — why hasn’t anyone suggested what – to me – is the most obvious suggestion? HBO could stop partnering with Cable companies and partner with NETFLIX. We currently subscribe to netflix and would be happy to pay an additional 8 dollars a month for HBO, THROUGH Netflix, as long as we had access to HBO’s complete content library. Then HBO doesn’t have to pay for distribution, Netflix gets a HUGE boost to its content offerings by providing NEW content — if Netflix was the only place to watch Game of Thrones Netflix stock would skyrocket over night — and EVERYONE WINS.

  • Rebecca Ramsey

     Except the cable companies. Who lose.

  • Melissa Sweet

    This doesn’t really answer why they don’t offer their shows on amazon and itunes. 

  • Being Geek Chic

     HBO is essentially subsidized by the cable companies. (And make a huge profit under that model.) Technical delivery, marketing, customer service, etc. is all paid for by the cable companies. The VP of HBO has said that the value HBO receives in marketing alone can’t be covered if they separated from the cable companies.

    I rant more about content subsidizing here:

  • Being Geek Chic

    I think people also have to remember that $12 a month may be what people are willing to pay, but HBO is in the business of making money. At $12 a month with 5 million subscribers, they could produce a half a season of Game of Thrones. Nevermind marketing costs, etc.

    The real question is if HBO told you that HBO GO could be
    delivered to you for a monthly fee of $44.95 a month, would you pay it? Quality content costs money to create. HBO wants to make a profit. It’s that simple. I wrote more on that here:

  • Travis Kyle Fischer

    So basically instead of adapting to the changing way we get our media, HBO plans to stick with the cable companies until they collapse completely and then hope they can rebuild themselves in the new market.

    Yeah… I’m sure that’ll work.

  • Mandi Walls

    The tech argument here is completely spurious.  If HBO decided they wanted to go massively online, most of the large IaaS providers would be drooling all over themselves for the opportunity to run the HBO GO stuff.  Netflix is NOT paying market price for what they get from AWS, no way no how; Amazon benefits from the publicity of having Netflix on their infrastructure.   “HBO GO Powered by DerpCloud” would have a lot of clout in tech circles.

    The reality is that TV is a quagmire of scratch-my-back exclusivity contracts and other deals completely opposite to what customers really want. You’ll never get over-the-air ala carte channels in the US.  You’ll never get unbundled services.  You’ll never get HBO or Showtime or anyone else to go online because that hurts the cable providers. None of these deals have anything to do with what is best for the originators of the content or the consumers.

  • Anonymous

    From a technological standpoint this still frustrates me, haven’t they heard of services such as Akamai? 
    You don’t need to spent money on your own infrastructure to deliver
    content these days and the service providers love it because they don’t
    have to continually use bandwidth to the sole provider serving it up
    sometimes causing bottlenecks.

    It’s very widely used over here (New Zealand) where internet is more
    expensive because most of the content comes from overseas, put in a few
    Akamai servers, content gets cached and served in an efficient fashion
    to the end user.

    Not even getting into the piracy debate as I pay extra to the only
    satellite company in NZ so I can watch Game of Thrones only weeks behind
    the US (though the first series was months behind and we’re just
    getting Pillars of the Earth which indicates how far behind the rest of
    the world can be) but for that I also get access to watch it online for
    free because of peering arrangements between providers.

  • Robin Burks

    And therein lies the problem. All of the content providers are going to stick to the “tried and true.” Meanwhile, their shows are pirated more and more often as more people cancel their cable subscriptions. If just one content provider had the guts to stand up and cut the cable cord themselves, they’d become not only heroes to their customers, but would also show the cable companies that they are no longer in control of the market.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    Not sure about Amazon but Game of Thrones season 1 is available for purchase on iTunes. 

  • Dydan Waters

    I know someone who worked for Borders Bookstore way back when Amazon first came on the scene.  He pleaded and urged the powers that be to jump on online book sales.  They told him that they were going to sit back, wait for Amazon to screw up enough, then they’d swoop on in with a better way to do it and make up the lost ground quickly.  

    Where is Borders now?  

  • Kevin Newburn

    Also broadband coverage in the US is still kinda crappy.  According to NCTA stats, 57 million homes in the US have cable while just 48 million homes have high speed internet. That’s just cable so it doesn’t include satelite and DSL but I’m guessing those numbers would maintain a similar ratio.  If HBO decided to cut bait with Cable they would be available to less households which is never a good thing.

  • Bradley Kay

    In regards to your “piracy is wrong” stance, have you ever gone over to a friend’s house to watch a show for a channel you didn’t have, or a movie that you didn’t have?  Have you ever borrowed a book from a friend (or even checked one out from the library), and returned it later.  Is that wrong?  I’m not saying that piracy is a good thing and 100% OK, but you need to realize that there are shades of gray with that and it’s not simply wrong “End of story”.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    I understand what you’re trying to say but I don’t consider that the same at all. Piracy, by definition, is an act of robbery. Borrowing something a friend isn’t. Neither is reading a library book. All of those things are legal activities in our society, piracy isn’t. That’s why my argument is clear cut in my mind.

  • Travis Kyle Fischer

    First of all, “piracy,” by definition, is an act of robbery AT SEA. So unless you’re on a boat (On a boat!) the definition that includes robbery is irrelevant to this topic.

    In THIS context, “internet piracy,” by definition, is an “unauthorized reproduction.” Technically, that would be closer to forgery than robbery.

    Second, and more importantly, what does legality have to do with it? Don’t confuse “legal and illegal” with “right and wrong.” The two have very little to do with each other.
    The argument against piracy is that it is wrong because you are getting content without compensating the content provider.
    If that is the case against piracy, then there is no practical difference between downloading a television show off of the internet or going over to somebody’s house to watch it on their TV. In either case, you are getting content without compensating the content provider. The distinction is arbitrary at best.

  • Anonymous

    It’s perfectly fine to tie your morality in with legality, so long as you are aware that is what you are doing. When you borrow a book from a library, or friend, read it, then return it, the net result for the content provider is the exact same as if you had pirated that book online: you got the content, and they were not paid for it.

    The difference is only that to pirate the book is illegal because it is copyright infringement, and to borrow the book is not. Don’t think that the money counters and publishing houses aren’t annoyed at the existence of libraries, wouldn’t shut them down if they could. In the future if books go all digital, locked to accounts on e-reader devices, and lending is illegal, does it then become wrong to lend a book. Was it always wrong? What if tomorrow libraries were found to be legally the same as piracy, mass copyright infringement? Does everyone with a loaned book out become then both a criminal AND immoral?

    I’m not trying to get a free pass for piracy here, but the issue is a more complicated one than proponents on either side of the argument would have you believe. Pro-piracy rhetoric is often written to be high-minded and forward-looking, but has little more intent behind it than people wanting to justify getting everything for free. Likewise anti-piracy rhetoric attempts to equate it with straight theft, and then let the historic villianization for that do all their work for them. 

    Piracy is not theft, it’s copyright infringement. Theft you take something from someone. It’s not the same as stealing a car. It’s like getting in a car, driving off in it, but also you have left an exact copy of that car when you found it. You have taken nothing from the car seller aside from a potential sale. Which is, notably, the exact same thing you take from sellers every day all day when you simply do not buy things. I’m taking a potential sale from a speedboat salesman right now by not buying a speedboat.

    Is piracy/copyright infringement illegal? Absolutely. Is it wrong? Definitely sometimes. All the time? Err… maybe? It’s a complicated issue, and a discussion that is probably worth having, especially as our society gets more and more digital, and more and more things are effortlessly copied. However, it’s not a discussion that is going to happen on any sort of neutral terms if both sides stick to their exaggerated simplistic positions, firmly entrenched in a black and white that lacks nuance or any real engagement with the reality of the situation.

  • Anonymous

    Ummm, maybe you can shed a little light on this for me.  If HBO goes with their current pattern, Game of Thrones Season 2 won’t be available until just before Season 3 premieres, just like how True Blood Season 4 wasn’t release until a week or so ago.  I understand your piracy argument, but aren’t they just inviting piracy by making people wait a year to watch the show at home?

  • Amy

    So HBO are basically admitting that it makes more financial sense for them to ignore piracy than to make it easy for people to pay for their content? Cool.

  • Sheila

    I dumped my satellite some years ago because I couldn’t justify nearly $100/month for the very few times I watched anything. HBO is one of the very few channels I would gladly pay for, a la carte. This is the future—too bad HBO’s execs can’t see past their noses right now.

  • micah vanderhoof

    More likely than one content provider standing up to the cable companies that they’re attached to, what will probably happen is content providers that are only attached to streaming will begin to emerge and seriously compete with cable attached content providers and probably sweep the floor with them.  Netflix has been trying to start their own studio for a while, and I hear Amazon’s getting in on that action too, but i think an independent studio/company that has a mutually benefitial relationship with a provider like Netflix or Hulu or Amazon will probably be what will replace HBO in terms of producing really high end content that’s 100% streamed.  Meh, HBO’s got more than enough life left in them to finish off Game of Thrones, and that’s what really matters :P 

  • Jason Dabrowski

    One of the issues that’s hard for folks to see is that viewers are not the customer in the TV game. That will probably, likely change, in the future, but the current model has viewers as the product, with advertisers as the consumer, paying for access to our eyeballs.
    It’s like fishing. “Television” is a big pond. Advertisers are fishermen. The shows are bait, the ads are hooks, and we’re the fish. In essence, we’re fish demanding to pay for the bait and leave the fishermen out of the equation completely. Not an easy change.  Television does not see viewers as customers. 

  • Jason Dabrowski

    We need Net Neutrality before that can take off. Content providers are also ISPs. Because we don’t have net Neutrality, Comcast can throttle or block Netflix traffic. Totally legal. It would piss people off, sure, but Comcast is a monopoly in certain parts of the USA. In my building, for example, we’re wired for comcast and the landlords will NOT let anyone else in. They don’t want all the extra wires. We’d have to go to ATT U-verse (which we’re considering). A lot of buildings in Chicago are like that, Comcast has made exclusive deals with them, and or the landlord doesn’t want 3-4 different cable companies running their wires all over the place.

  • Anonymous

    Is it stealing an episode if I go to a friend’s house who has HBO? I’m not paying for it…

  • Anonymous

     No, piracy back in the old days was by definition robbery (and by that, I mean pirates on the high seas). The piracy you’re talking about is COPYING something and the original user still gets to use it. If all pirates simply stopped watching the show and never bought the show, HBO wouldn’t be affected. Wait, that’s wrong: they would sell fewere dvds. You’re making the assumption that if people didn’tpirate, they would buy. But that’s not necessarily true, and the act of piracy in those instances does absolutely no harm to the creators of the show. All in all, it’s probably has no net impact on HBO because some people WON’T buy if they can watch it on line for free, and some people DO buy the dvds who wouldn’t have done so otherwise (people who need to love a show to buy it, but won’t love it until they’ve seen it. That’s a catch 22 right there).

    Now, it’s not sustainable to keep copying media without paying for it b/c the producers have no incentive to create more and they SHOULD get compensated. However, if you pirate it online when it airs and then buy the DVD box set when it comes out, I see no problem.

  • Anonymous

    Wait… 5×12=60 … x 2 =120… are you suggesting that one season of Game of Thrones costs $120 million dollars to produce? I’m pretty sure the budget is $20 million. Or are you coming to that “half a season” conclusion based on 12-8 = 4… x 5 =20… x 2 = 40. That’s still way too much.

  • Anonymous

     Cable is probably going to go the way of the horse and buggy.

  • Thomas Wrobel

    If pirates can distribute these things at near zero inferstrture cost, then so can multi-million dollar companies.
    Just have a legal torrent site.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    This recently popped up, it’s an interesting read. Piracy vs. libraries by a librarian:

  • Maja Covic

     Spot on.

    Pirates are fish who eat the bait without getting hooked, and it’s pissing off the pond owner.

    The war against piracy is scribes (cable companies) demonizing the printing press (internet) because they can no longer live
    off their patrons (advertizes) and are resisting the day their jobs will
    go to the technicians setting the block print (the IT crowd). Because they work for patrons and not the audience, they can’t see the absurdity of their position: they already double as printing houses (internet providers).

    They would make just as much money, if not more, selling bandwidth
    and/or data packages *for those same shows*.

    Even advertisers can stay,
    in two flavors;
    As spam – which current add breaks are;
    Or better – as
    in Google – subtle, personalized and occasionally even *gasp* – useful.

    But no. heaven forbid the entertainment industry developed some common sense.

  • Maja Covic

    It’s to boost the price of the show by artificial restrictions on supply (same as geo-locking and DVD zones). Then they can sue the pirates out of house and home, like they did to that American woman. If the music she was sued for really cost that much, pirate bay would be worth more money than exists on Earth.

    It’s basically gaming the system and nothing new in the business. “Hollywood accounting” is just the tip of the ice-berg that is the entertainment cartel.

    Copyright infringment, as in stealing from the author, is very bad. Which makes studios the peak of hypocrisy because they do it on a *massive* scale: Forest Gump – not paid for, anything by Helenin, as in Inception – not paid for , a bunch of movies by James Cameron – not paid for…

    War against piracy is an excuse, the reason is fleecing the customers.