In the digital Game of Thrones, does anyone win?
Australia has won an iTunes global exclusive with Game of Thrones season two. Yet HBO has still managed to put serious fans offside.
It seems like Australia stands alone in the iTunes universe, earning access to Game of Thrones season two while it still breathes on TV screens worldwide. It's an almost-perfect move to keep fans off the torrents. Almost...
At first, it came as a shock. Browsing the Australian iTunes Store, the second season of Game of Thrones was right there, promoted front and centre. No, it's not a false launch like last time, seeding previews and behind-the-scenes footage instead of delivering on the goods. This is the real thing.
HBO's decision to only distribute the first season a single month before the second hit screens received the online ridicule it deserved. The Oatmeal summed it up nicely; you could search every available avenue to pay real money to own a digital copy, but no one was selling. They just didn't want your money. The torrential downpour was inevitable.
So here now is the second season, less than two weeks behind the US broadcasts (available in line with broadcasts on Foxtel's Showtime) — a pleasant surprise.
Curious; a look at the US iTunes Store uncovered an interesting difference. It was simply unavailable. HBO maintains its blackout in the USA, while allowing some latitude in other territories. No, wait. Not "other territories". Just Australia.
Some exploration of a wide range of iTunes destinations (searching the USA, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and others) seems to show that Australia may be alone in this digital availability.
So is this perhaps some kind of test? Can one of the world's biggest per capita file-sharing nations be brought to heel through a positive step forward in timely availability? What seems to have been missed is that you don't win the throne by half measures. And in this game, as fans well know, you win or you die.
For AU$28.99, you can have Game of Thrones season two in Standard Definition.
But no High Definition is available.
It is hard to imagine the meetings where such decisions are made. Does withholding HD somehow push owners of big, full HD screens to dial up Foxtel for an HD subscription package? Does it make them begrudgingly accept the lesser-quality copy? Or does it send them elsewhere? Back over The Wall to the wastelands with the wildlings, where unsanitary downloads await?
This was so close to being a solid win for digital audiences. The scent of a future where well-reasoned, rational content distribution prevails.
To hold back on HD is a decision so nuanced it feels like a scheme worthy of Casterly Rock.
Will they sell more by selling twice? SD digital now, then HD later? Or will they, yet again, sell less than they should by defending something that only the distributors can see? Then point and cry, "See? We gave you your downloads, and you still didn't want to pay!"