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HBO Basically Tells Us to Continue Pirating 'Game of Thrones'

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To state a really, really obvious fact, TV is changing. To be a little bit more obvious, it’s the Internet’s fault.

Thanks to streaming services like Netflix (NFLX) and Hulu, as well the Apple TV (AAPL) (maybe, possibly becoming an actual HDTV set soon) and Google TV (GOOG), traditional cable companies are facing more competition than ever for viewer eyeballs. Still, the economics of television are still pretty appealing for at least one major online media presence.

Yesterday, the New York Times Media Decoder blog reported that HBO had responded on Twitter to an online campaign pushing for Web-only HBO memberships. The takeaway? Web-exclusive memberships aren’t happening, at least not for now.

This week, Jake Caputo started a web page titled “Take My Money, HBO!” that called on HBO to provide an option to subscribe only to its HBO GO feature and asked visitors to name how much they would pay for such a service. The page points out that many Internet users already pirate HBO programs -- a fact also pointed out in this very “The Times is On It” article late last month -- and so the premium cable company might as well charge them.

The site received 12,000 hits in its first two hours online and clearly struck on a major vein of support among young, TV-less Twitter users. Unfortunately, HBO’s response makes it clear that, for now, the numbers don’t make sense.

The channel’s Twitter account responded to the campaign by linking to this article on Techcrunch and saying that the author “has it right.” For now, any amount of additional revenue the company makes from online will be made up for in loss of marketing support from cable providers like Comcast (CMCSA), and Time Warner Cable (TWC).

Beyond that, the company couldn’t make up for lost cable subscribers with new online accounts.

What’s really interesting about HBO’s response is that, even with the growing popularity of online platforms and general trends away from TV, cable is still far and away the best delivery mechanism for a popular channel like HBO. This is important to remember in any conversation about the death of traditional cable.

Of course, HBO only turned down an online-only option “for now.”
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