Category Archives: SideReel Spotlight

SideReel Spotlight – Is Sharing Passwords Fair or Foul?

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Note: SideReel Spotlight is an ongoing series of insights and commentary from the SideReel team about the changing landscape of the TV industry. 

Paid streaming TV services are popping up everywhere. Early contenders Netflix and Hulu+ are continually expanding their catalogs in order to battle increased competition from later entrants like Amazon Prime Instant Video and the soon-to-launch Vdio and Spotify VOD offerings. On the other end of the spectrum, there are established content producers adapting their models for the new content ecosystem. HBO and Showtime grant existing subscribers access to their streaming services (HBO GO and SHO Anytime) at no additional cost. Clearly, content providers are aware that consumers want greater flexibility in their viewership habits — the new issue is how these services can ensure that only those users paying for the content are the ones with access to it.


Password-sharing might be the next iteration of the ongoing issues that arise in the evolution of how we consume TV content. The battlefield has shifted from combatting digital piracy (with help from governmental regulation) to the sharing of streaming service accounts. HBO GO, for one, doesn’t restrict multiple simultaneous device logins, hypothetically allowing four different people to watch the same show at the same time on the same subscription.

In its terms for HBO GO, HBO specifies that, “you must be a subscriber with an account in good standing with an authorized distributor of HBO that carries HBO GO”. But it doesn’t seem like this is really enforced or policed beyond this conditional legal communication.

The arguments about this type of loophole center on the ethics of shared accounts. In a blog column for the New York Times, Public Editor Margaret Sullivan comes down firmly on one side of this debate, saying “Does password-sharing with strangers reflect the highest ethics? Clearly not.” Source

The other side of the coin is if it’s even really an ethical issue to begin with or a legal one. Is it legal for someone to use a friend’s login credentials to watch something they didn’t pay for themselves? Is it any different from watching pirated content? One interesting question this brings up is whether the subscription fees are merely for access to the content or for the direct consumption of it.

In the past few years, various governments have cracked down hard on online content piracy, shutting down torrent catalogues and sites like But if I use my cousin’s sister’s friend’s aunt’s Netflix subscription to watch the upcoming Arrested Development premiere, I, too, am watching content that I didn’t pay for. Someone did, but that someone wasn’t me.

Perhaps the issue is that the streaming content providers simply can’t (or won’t) police account-sharing, since cracking down would conflict with the habits of multi-platform users (a desirable demographic). Either way, as we start watching in more and more ways and on more and more devices, gray-area issues like this will continue to come up — and content owners and providers will have to continue to pick their battles carefully to avoid backlash.

SideReel Spotlight – Game of Moans

By | Content Trends, SideReel Spotlight | 2 Comments

Note: SideReel Spotlight is an ongoing series of insights and commentary from the SideReel team about the changing landscape of the TV industry. 

You may have noticed wailing and rending of garments on Sunday night. HBO GO — the premium network’s web streaming service included in the price of subscription — crashed hard at the moment of the Game of Thrones season 3 premiere. Superfans of the series were heartened when the network announced (via Twitter) that the episode would become available with none of the multihour or day delays that other streaming services institute.

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But then, a minute before 9 pm/ET, the clamor for the fantasy series killed the site. The episode wouldn’t load online; its Roku and XBox portals ceased functioning; its iOS apps were rendered useless.

And then Twitter freaked out.

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The service was back up for most users after a delay of about 45 minutes, though usability was hit or miss well into the overnight hours. And this was just from people attempting to watch the show legally.

The pirate sites tell an even more interesting story. According to TorrentFreak, the S3 premiere of Game of Thrones now holds the distinction of garnering the biggest torrent swarm in history: “A few hours after the first torrent of the show was uploaded the OpenBitTorrent tracker reported that 163,088 people were sharing one single torrent. 110,303 were sharing a complete copy of that particular torrent while 52,786 were still downloading. These are mind boggling numbers that we’ve never seen before.” Source

HBO GO has the potential to be a fantastic step forward in preventing this kind of piracy — but the fact that it’s currently limited to only those who subscribe through their cable or satellite provider defeats the purpose. There have been rumblings lately that the premium giant would offer a standalone option for cord-cutters, and the statistics we’re seeing from this Game of Thrones event should indicate that this is the way forward — not just for premium channels, but for all original content. The only real hazard to the provider is in not delivering on the promise, the way HBO did Sunday night (in theory, HBO should have had the bandwidth to offer simultaneous access to its streaming service to every subscriber).

It’s not a shock that web users want instant gratification, and it’s also not surprising that we see outrage online the moment a company fails to deliver on a promised offering. What is surprising is that at a time in television broadcasting history where timeshifting is being touted as the only way forward, a high profile season premiere can still be a cultural event in real time.

Based on the despair evident in some of these tweets, it seems as though this is one time users wished it had been just TV… and not HBO.

— Leah Friedman, SideReel’s Movies and WebTV Content Editor