After years of controversy over illegal downloads of Game of Thrones, the premiere of the new season this past weekend was never likely to come and go without a few piracy headlines.
But despite what some believed might be pending doom following millions of unauthorized downloads, HBO’s response was relatively calm, with the company saying it was “actively assessing” how the breach had occurred. However, an event from another unexpected quarter elicited a much more strongly worded response.
On Monday, Aussie news outlet Mumbrella reported that in the wake of gazillions of weekend BitTorrent downloads, literally “dozens” of people live-streamed the first episode of Game of Thrones to their friends as it aired in Australia.
Their weapon of choice was Twitter-owned Periscope, an app that allows anyone to point a smartphone at anything and stream that content live to the world. As expected, Twitter was quick to respond, saying Periscope would terminate the user accounts of anyone “determined to be a repeat infringer.”
Considering the extremely low number of reportedly poor quality streams and the unstoppable piracy extravaganza already underway elsewhere, it seemed unlikely the story would gain much traction. But for reasons best known to HBO, the company has now issued a more strongly worded statement on the Periscope streams than it did for the torrent leak on Saturday.
“We are aware of Periscope and have sent takedown notices,” an HBO spokeswoman confirmed in a statement. But then the twist.
“In general, we feel developers should have tools which proactively prevent mass copyright infringement from occurring on their apps and not be solely reliant upon notifications,” HBO added.
When targeted at a live streaming app like Periscope with a relatively tiny userbase, this is a head-scratching statement.
While a couple of handful of users were admittedly streaming the same content to their followers, Periscope would’ve needed to be advised in advance of what content to look out for in order to censor any streams. Even then it would’ve been tricky to pick out a particular TV show from what were presumably pretty wobbly smartphone streams.
But even if streams went ahead, would they even prove a crowd pleaser with those looking to view leaked shows? Periscope co-founder Kayvon Beykpour doesn’t believe so.
“I just don’t think that Periscope, as much as I love it, is a compelling way to watch a theatrical premiere of a movie, a Game of Thrones release, a soccer match, an NBA match,” Beykpour says.
“Of course someone is going to open up their phone and stream this stuff, but that’s not a compelling way for people to engage.”
What makes this situation even more curious is why HBO would pick on Periscope at all when there are much bigger targets? Within minutes of Game of Thrones appearing online Saturday evening HBO would’ve known the hash values of the episodes. Why then aren’t they calling on BitTorrent Inc, for example, to implement a hash filtering system in its uTorrent client?
It’s hard to know what’s going through the media giant’s collective mind, but neither BitTorrent nor Periscope appear to have hurt the Game of Thrones premiere. Despite four episodes already being widely available online, Sunday’s opener proved to be a series-best in the United States with 7.99 million viewers.
However, it is certainly possible that HBO has something else on its mind.
Sure, Periscope’s Beykpour feels that his app isn’t “compelling” for streaming sports, but will HBO feel the same way come May 2 when people start flooding into the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for Mayweather vs Pacquiao?
HBO and rare partner Showtime will be charging a whopping $89.95 for a PPV pass, 40% more than the previous record set for a Mayweather fight in 2013. Plus, there won’t be a way to torrent the event until the final bell has long gone.
Expect a lot more than “dozens” to point their periscopes and meerkats screenwards for the biggest fight in boxing history in just two weeks’ time. Proactively taking down those streams will be game of whac-a-mole that not even the men in the main event will be quick enough to keep up with.