Game Of Thrones is probably the most pirated show in history, and Australians are at the front of the mob, diving head-first into the record books. We download the HBO drama more than anyone else in the world per capita. Why? Why are we such prolific pirates? How did we get here?
It's an interesting problem, and it has several moving parts: one is an outdated media landscape that wants to hold onto a dying business model for as long as possible, and the other centres around an intrinsic Australian cultural entitlement problem when it comes to content from North America.
The Rivers Of Gold
The problem with Australia's media landscape is largely the same one that's affecting the whole world: advertisers are pulling out of TV just like they're pulling out of newspapers, and traditional players are suffering for it. All of a sudden, the environment that was invented purely to push ads — that is, television — has become a new beast where content is king.
With the decline in ad funding, Australian media bosses are now grappling with how they're going to get paid now that everyone consumes content online.
Not wanting to be left behind, free-to-air TV networks have all jumped into the catch-up arena. Seven's PLUS7 app, Nine's JumpIn and Ten's TenPlay are all trying to offer what Netflix or Hulu offers US consumers: all you can eat content with a smidgen of ad support.
These homegrown TV catch up platforms still feel half-baked, however, and getting access the catch-up portal itself on your phone is still a problem when brands like Samsung and LG demand app exclusives on their devices.
The ABC provides a great catch-up platform for its suite of shows in iView, but the resolution of the content becomes a problem when you try to stream a 240p clip to your 1080p or higher television. The ABC is publicly funded, and claims that pushing larger format files would drive up data costs exponentially. So it figures to give people crappy access to content rather than no access at all.
TV networks are getting there, slowly, but the iTunes and Google Play are still the best ways to legally acquire content for catch-up in Australia. Either ecosystem offers shows (more or less) within 24 hours of it airing in cheap, high definition formats that can be played just about anywhere: TV, tablet, phone or other.
Apple and Google are able to offer these services thanks to the leverage they have as massive brands over entertainment providers like HBO, Showtime and other US cable networks (i.e.: the ones making the content). That leverage and the resulting deals serve to cheese off Australian content providers who don't have the buying power of the world's largest tech companies, so they've started to fight dirty.
Specifically relating to Game Of Thrones, Foxtel needs to shoulder much of the blame for the explosive rise in piracy.
The anatomy of justifying piracy comes down to pricing and availability: make content cheap and available quickly on different devices and you quickly dissolve the reasons everyone illegally downloads content. Everyone from you, me right up to Google Australia know that.
Foxtel, however, seems to be out of the loop.
It made a deal with HBO that cut both the Apple iTunes Store and the Google Play store out of the market. Foxtel, the sole and most expensive cable provider in the country, now has a monopoly on one of the most watched shows on television. And that's a problem.
To get a Foxtel subscription capable of screening GoT on your television requires an outlay of $74 per month, or a spend of $35 per month for Foxtel Play on your tablet and smartphone. That's still quite a large capital outlay for people who are used to paying a few dollars per episode or just $10 per month for an overseas subscription. That gives you a big fat "F" on the pricing test.
Couple that with the fact that Foxtel just isn't available to everyone and you fail the availability test outright.
Foxtel is a problem, but you can't blame the whole problem of GoT piracy on an outdated media landscape, however. It's also a cultural thing.
The Entitlement Problem
Australia is heavily anchored in North American popular culture. We import many of our trends from the US, from our TV shows through to our movies and gadgets. We're now even importing their fast food chains like Carls Jr.
Even our political system has been imported from the US and the UK: Aussies operate under the "Washminster" model of government, which emulates the best things about the Westminster system in the UK and the Washington system from the US.
We share a very American view of the internet in that it should be free and open for everyone. That particular view clashes when it comes to how content providers look at the internet and digital distribution. Media bosses in the US are just as scared as their Australian counterparts over who will pay for content and what their cut will be, which means that a swathe of content is available to North Americans only.
We're also a country with the highest take-up of smartphone devices in the world. We love 'em. In the same way that a rural resident needs to own a car, Australians need to own fast networking gadgets to cut down on the tyranny of distance we face from the rest of the world.
So is it any wonder that with the combination of an incredibly well-connected society that thinks it's the 51st state of the United States, people in Australia feel entitled to content produced specifically for North America?
We pine for the launch of Netflix and Hulu so badly that we're literally tunelling into the US to get access to it. We'll do anything to emulate our US cousins and stay in the loop of what they're talking about.
We've seen over the back fence to what our neighbours get, and we want in. Couple that with media bosses desperate to keep the rivers of gold flowing and you see the problem.
We take our sense of entitlement to the web, where anything can and is downloaded for free, often illegally. And that's how we get to where we are today: a country where content is locked up in old business models for only the wealthy to see.
It's the Elysium effect: they're up there, and we're down here without. Downloading content illegally is what we do to get what we feel is owed to us.
Foxtel thinks it's complying with the rules of piracy in that it's offering GoT to new customers via its apps, but you still can't compete with free. Aussies look at Foxtel as a greedy monopolist out to screw customers, so they pirate what they think is owed to them.
The real problem when it comes to downloading content like Game Of Thrones, is that there's no end in sight.