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New site calls for cable-free HBO Go option, but it's an uphill battle

Cable cutters are calling for HBO Go to become available independently without a cable subscription, but there are reasons this won't make a big dent in piracy.

HBO Go, available on tablets, phones, and PC, is unlikely to be divorced from a cable membership anytime soon.
Scott Stein/CNET

With "Game of Thrones" now the most pirated show on the Internet, a site has sprung up calling for HBO Go to become available without a cable membership, but unfortunately it's unlikely to work.

The site, started by Web programmer Jake Caputo and called Take My Money, HBO!, is designed to convince HBO to sell individual memberships to HBO Go to reduce piracy.

In response, several sites have pointed out why this strategy is doomed to fail. Even the company itself seems happy with its current domestic situation: in response to my request for comment, a HBO spokesperson instead pointed me to this tweet, which links to a TechCrunch article detailing why "HBO doesn't want your money."

According to a collation of the tweets that have sprung up today in support, many people seem to think that a $12 subscription would be fair for HBO Go-only access.

However, as Dan Frommer at SplatF points out, the company is wholly owned by cable company Time Warner which has a vested interest in selling cable memberships and licensing its content to other providers. He says that HBO is Time Warner's biggest money earner worth billions of dollars, and that the company is "not going to jeopardize that because some people on the Internet think it should".

But according to new statistics it isn't just cable cutters who are contributing to demand for HBO content: with just under 10 percent of "Game of Thrones" downloads originating in the U.S., it's clearly a worldwide phenomenon.

The reason for high demand overseas could be a result of the lag times in showings in other countries and the relatively high penetration of cable in the States. Australia, for example, has a low proportion of cable and satellite membership (22 percent versus 44.3 percent in the United States), and the first season of "Game of Thrones" didn't show on cable till 12 months after it showed in the U.S. As a result the country contributed to 10 percent of illegal downloads of the show -- the same percentage as in the States -- despite having a population of only 20 million.

According to the recent U.S. piracy watchlist, the States don't even figure in the top 10 locations of Internet pirates, with Canada in particular called out for downloading and distributing more illegal movies and TV shows.

Coincidentally, HBO Go has announced support for the Kindle Fire on the same day the Take My Money campaign has gotten off the ground.

Theoretically, the company could sell HBO Go memberships on a global scale, since having to maintain a cable network overseas isn't an inhibiting factor. Licensing is another, thornier problem there, however. If the company is losing money to piracy anywhere, it's losing it overseas, and a divorced HBO Go offering in this country isn't going to change that.