It doesn’t take a media analyst to know that Game of Thrones is huge. It’s easily one of the most popular shows on cable, and according to a report by Variety, garnered a total Nielsen rating of around 13-14 million viewers per episode last season. So that makes HBO’s announcement this week that the company will begin offering Game of Thrones and six other popular shows for purchase a la carte through Google Play a pretty big deal…or does it? After years of hoarding its digital content like pirate gold, will HBO’s latest move even make a blip on the online radar?
Take our group of friends, for instance. Of the huge percentage of people in our personal and professional circles who watch Game of Thrones (nearly all of them), an extremely slim percent have been catching the show on HBO, or the subscription required HBO-Go. Cord-cutters for life, the majority of our normally law-abiding friends and family have been “appropriating” episodes of Game of Thrones for years, stockpiling racy scenes of the lovely Daenerys, and gore shots of Tyrion’s battle axe for review any time they choose, even though older episodes have been readily available at iTunes.
Enter Google Play, the most recently added legal method for acquiring episodes of Game of Thrones, as well as The Newsroom, Boardwalk Empire, Girls, Veep, True Blood, and The Wire, for around $2-3 per episode, without an HBO subscription (the same as iTunes). But will an added portal for legal purchase suddenly rally all those hardened media hustlers to start spending hard-earned currency for it? Somehow we doubt it. Fans still have to wait for months to get the latest episodes if they want to go straight. To make an impact, a fair number of the torrent crowd would have to decide to toe the line and buy HBO’s online content, along with a crowd of all new converts who’ve been waiting for a legal way outside of Apple’s walled garden to get in on the action.
Of course, it’s safe to assume both HBO and Google have considered all of this. It seems their new deal may be less of a big play for the cord-cutting audience today, and more of a strategic move in a much bigger fight for the future. For HBO, which makes almost all of its nut on subscribers, the deal provides a new stream of revenue that wasn’t getting tapped, as well as near a risk-free experiment in a la carte sales to Google Play fans. And for Google, it’s one more feather in Chromecast’s cap — a battle blow in the greater war for set-top box supremacy against its rivals.
While HBO and Google’s new partnership is an interesting development, for now, we’re skeptical of how much it will change the online landscape. How about you? If Google Play is your bag, do you plan on laying down some cash for your Game of Thrones fix? Where do you see this latest development leading? Let us know.