When HBO announced HBO Now, the media company's new standalone streaming service, analysts considered "Game of Thrones" its flagship title.
"Game of Thrones" is one of the most popular original content dramas in the market right now," says Lawrence Low, head of regional sales at anti-piracy research firm Irdeto. "It’s premium, original content that has appeal with many different demographics. Maybe even more importantly...it appeals to many countries, not all of which have the access they would like to the show."
HBO Now offered streaming capability for $14.99 a month, cheaper than the traditional path of cable plus a premium subscription, which was formerly the only route to HBO content (without borrowing your cousin's password). "Game of Thrones" is considered the most pirated show in history, and now, four episodes of the new season have already leaked. So, could HBO Now combat piracy by making the show, and other HBO content, easier to acquire legally?
"I think it's less about piracy and more about capturing that growing number of Americans who aren't subscribing to cable. There's this number thrown out that there's about 10 to 11 million people in the U.S. who don't subscribe to cable, a lot of them millennials," says Natalie Jarvey, who covers digital media at The Hollywood Reporter.
For "Game of Thrones" season five, HBO went to work to make the show easier for international audiences to access, too. The season premiere was simulcast across 170 countries. In the past, episodes were staggered for up to weeks at a time for global markets. That delay could have made piracy a worthy pursuit for viewers abroad in the past – the U.S. ranked third when it came to "Game of Thrones" piracy, behind Brazil and France.
"It goes back to the idea of availability ... I think people are pirating because they can't find the content anywhere else," Jarvey says. "While HBO Now might help with some of that, HBO Now right now is only in the U.S."
One reason that HBO may not have allowed its content to be viewed a la carte in the past was due to a concern of increased piracy. But, the digital-only TV show "House of Cards" was only the fifth most-pirated show, according to anti-piracy research firm Irdeto, behind traditional-TV "Game of Thrones," "Walking Dead," "Breaking Bad," and "Vikings."
"The mode of distribution is not really the question," says Low. "The other challenge for content owners and distributors is having rights to distribute in all the territories they have coverage. Even Netflix does not have rights to 'House of Cards' on its service in all of the countries where it is available."