Some broadcasters are seeing the futility of trying to stop viewers sharing online passwords to watch popular shows lik Game of Thrones
Last Sunday afternoon, some friends and I were hanging out in a local bar, talking about what we'd be doing that evening. It turned out that we all had the same plan: to watch the season premiere of Game of Thrones. But only one person in our group had a cable television subscription to HBO, where it is shown. The rest of us had a crafty workaround.
We were each going to use HBO Go, the network's video website, to stream the show online; but not on our own accounts. To gain access, one friend planned to use the login of the father of a childhood friend. Another would use his mother's account. I had the information of a guy in New Jersey that I had once met in a Mexican restaurant.
Our behaviour; sharing password information to HBO Go, Netflix, Hulu and other streaming sites and services, appears increasingly prevalent among web-savvy people who don't own televisions or subscribe to cable.
It's hard to know exactly how common it is: traditional analytics firms like Nielsen and comScore can't track it, and cultural research organisations like Pew haven't done extensive surveying about it. An informal BuzzFeed survey, which was a partial inspiration for this column, found that several dozen people in its office used someone else's account information for HBO Go. And based on countless anecdotes, conversations, tweets and text messages, such behaviour seems to be on the rise.
"It also seems like a pretty serious problem," wrote John Herrman, a senior editor at BuzzFeed and author of the polling report. "While our office is fairly young and not representative of HBO's broader customer base, it is representative of a rising generation of people who 1. like watching HBO shows and 2. cannot fathom paying for them."
Do the companies, particularly HBO, view this as especially problematic? I hesitated before asking, worried that any inquiries would prompt a crackdown, with the result that I'd become the most-hated person on the internet.
But to the collective relief of nearly everyone I know, the companies with whom I spoke seemed to have little to no interest in curbing our sharing behaviour; in part because they can't. They have little ability to track and curtail their customers who are sharing account information, according to Jeff Cusson, senior vice-president for corporate affairs at HBO. And, he said, the network doesn't view the sharing "as a pervasive problem at this time".
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