National Comment Comment

Clash of Comment: Is the illegal streaming of films and hit shows such as Game of Thrones justifiable?

Matthew King and Patrick Walker put forward their contrasting views on illegal streaming

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Image Credit: HBO

YES - Matthew King

Despite the fact that I’m writing this to justify illegal streaming, I would like to begin by asserting that piracy as a concept is immoral, and in an ideal world it would not exist.

However, we don’t live in an ideal world; our world is economically imbalanced, and as a result, in order to consume cultural products such as films and TV shows, people with less money simply can’t afford to legally watch them. For a student to watch all the shows they wanted legally (without parental assistance) they would have to fork out for Netflix subscriptions, a TV license and much more, all of which can add up to an extortionate amount of money – money that could be used for essentials and for helping with their studies. If you can afford to legally stream, you should, but for those of us who simply can’t, we have to find another way.

Also, illegal streaming does generate money. Think about it – if you can’t afford to pay for Sky, and thus cannot watch Game of Thrones, you wouldn’t be able to tell Sue down the road about it, who may then buy Sky to watch it, nor would you be able to indulge yourself in all the merchandise that HBO yearly spill out. It is a lie to suggest that streaming takes money away from producers, because ultimately piracy still generates income. Look at it this way; the highest grossing TV show of our time is Game of Thrones, but it is also the most pirated show. This proves that there is little to no correlation between extreme loss of income and the illegal streaming of a product. If streaming was taken away, the audience of shows such as this would dwindle in numbers, and result in the amount of fans (merchandise loving fans) dramatically decreasing due to the fact that they can’t afford to watch the shows they love, because buying bread for the table is more important than paying for TV subscriptions.

Additionally, we all know how bad streaming sites are: they’re bad quality, riddled with viruses, and slow. Because of this, people who begin watching on streaming sites will probably get fed up of it and move to legal modes of viewing. This is what happened to me. When I began getting into shows such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, I couldn’t afford to pay for Now TV or Sky, so I had to stream them online. I found the overall experience pretty awful, what with buffering taking about four hours and the lack of subtitles for the fictitious languages on GoT. Despite this, I still loved the shows, so much so that I begged my parents to take me to Georgia (USA) to visit the filming locations of The Walking Dead.

Without the ability to stream these shows I would not have the desire to do this, nor would I have had the desire to save up money for a Now TV pass, so I was able to rewatch the series I had streamed. Therefore, it is clear that streaming is not wholly unjust, as it allows for everyone to experience the media, not just those who can afford it. If those who cannot afford to buy subscriptions right now are given a platform which allows them to still experience it, then they will most likely fork out later in life for subscriptions to streaming sites w h e n they can afford to.

To summarise, those who can afford to stream legally should, otherwise the film and TV industry will begin to suffer. However, those who can’t afford to should not be denied the ability to consume cultural products. Piracy is bad, yes, but it also promotes the spread of the show through word of mouth, the sale of merchandise, the purchasing of the product later on. This increases the fan base, and ultimately allows for no one to be denied experiencing the shows they love. Ultimately, shouldn’t art be available to everyone?

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NO - Patrick Walker

Let’s be honest, HBO can probably take it, but are we really having a discussion about whether a product costing over $90 million to produce, and employing a small army of people over several continents, should be stolen at the viewer’s leisure? Reports from MUSO have estimated that Game of Thrones was watched over a billion times without making a cent of income for HBO.

The show is, according to the firm, undergoing a piracy frenzy: even as it smashes nightly records for legal views, those numbers have become dwarfed by the swarm of illegal streaming sites. O f course, early leaks from third party companies have not helped matters. Game of Thrones is both unique in its worldwide popularity, and its vulnerability to leaks due to the large number of global distribution partners HBO uses. “It’s like protecting your house”, co-showrunner David Benioff told Entertainment Weekly, presumably commenting from atop his pile of dragon money.

Even with technological advances and HBO’s reported attempts to contact the internet service providers of illegal viewers, “it’s impossible” to completely secure the show. The problem with piracy cannot simply be boiled down to the fact that industry giants are losing money. That’s not just blatantly obvious, but well-documented too.

One estimate by Digital TV puts the cost at $52 billion lost in potential revenue across multiple sectors and 132 countries by the end of 2022. The real problem is the way that the cost for this loss in revenue is not simply borne by cigar-chewing, ranch-owning American media bosses; it is often passed onto the consumer. Fewer paying customers for their service means that the customers who do pay must progressively cough up more to enable the stuff they want to watch keep be produced.

If you’re riding a train that someone has taken without a ticket, you’re probably paying, in some way, for their journey, either through a worse service or a pricier ticket. At $15 a month, a HBO Go subscription is one of the more expensive streaming services on the market in the US. Less money going towards the creative industry also means lower funding for the stuff you love: that doesn’t just mean multiepisodic, medieval epics like Game of Thrones, but less popular, niche shows.

The idea that illegally streaming content doesn’t hurt those who illegally stream it isn’t true. HBO relies heavily on Game of Thrones as a principle income source, and by not making as much money on their principle offering, there is less funding to go around for the interesting, smaller-scale projects.

The argument that HBO should offer Game of Thrones to better, or cheaper services also doesn’t hold. Forget coughing up for a NOW TV subscription: Canadian viewers have to sign up to a $150/year membership to watch the show in their region, and British fans have it pretty well-off, with a three month deal covering the entire season. It shouldn’t be a difficult choice between funding something you love, and leaving creatives without a verifiable source of income. It shouldn’t be up for debate whether to pay someone for incredible creative work or not, especially as the pain of funding content creations are being made more visible to us through our relationship with smaller, online creators.

It’s frankly bizarre that the show has simultaneously such enthusiastic fans, and such high piracy rates. If you love the content, pay for it. Everyone benefits in the long run

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