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.
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.
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