Why Game of Thrones’ simultaneous UK-US broadcast changes everything – and nothing
Ivan | On 27, Mar 2014
Game of Thrones Season 4 will be broadcast in the UK at the same time as in the US – at 2am, to be exact.
The decision was announced by HBO at the premiere of the new season and will see the show available to Sky Atlantic viewers every week without any delay from its initial airing. That gap between America and the UK has been a big issue for fans of the show: after the TV broadcast, non-Sky customers have previously had to wait almost a year to buy the series on DVD, prompting many to torrent the programme illegally rather than wait.
HBO famously once said that piracy wasn’t a concern for them, that spreading word about the show was still beneficial. Since then, though, they have made significant efforts to bring the show sooner to UK audiences, who are now used to being able to stream it immediately online.
Game of Thrones Season 3 was released digitally just a few weeks after its TV run ended last year, making the show available on Tesco’s blinkbox in summer 2013, far ahead of the February 2014 DVD release. A deal with Google Play followed at Christmas.
The biggest step, though, is releasing the show on Sky’s NOW. Non-Sky customers will be able to stream the show live as it is broadcast on Sky Atlantic and also catch up on-demand for £4.99 a month, with no contract. (From 16th October 2014, this renews at £6.99 per month.)
With Season 1, 2 and 3 all available on NOW as well, the whole of Game of Thrones is effectively available to stream whenever you want without having to sign up to Sky for 12 months. In a world where that’s possible – and where people increasingly binge on TV shows on VOD – the notion that a revised linear TV schedule can be a game-changer almost seems quaint. After all, Game of Thrones will still be available on-demand for the rest of the week.
But it is part of HBO’s ongoing attempts to close that gap between US and UK, which the industry has been striving to do for some time. Netflix’s release of Breaking Bad’s final season last year cemented the new standard window between territories, with US shows frequently available to UK audiences on-demand within 24 hours of broadcast. With Game of Thrones, though, that’s not always fast enough, with people torrenting regardless. The decision to show it simultaneously for Brits, then, is a big step.
Perhaps more importantly, though, it means that the show will be available to stream live on NOW at 2am too – and on-demand afterwards (existing Sky customers can use Sky On Demand and Sky Go). In other words, as soon as Game of Thrones Season 4 premieres in America, UK audiences can watch it online whenever they like, legally. You can watch it with your breakfast before going to work. Or stream it during your lunch break. The piracy gap has been closed – completely. And with NOW costing only a fiver a month, Game of Thrones is arguably the most accessible and affordable it’s ever been. What a difference a year makes.
Will Game of Thrones set the standard for new shows going forward? Like Jon Snow, we know nothing. But with the Veronica Mars movie receiving a day and date digital and cinema release in both the US and UK this month, the notion of different regions with their own release dates may one day seem as antiquated as, well, linear TV.
Game of Thrones Season 4 will be available to watch online in the UK on Monday 7th April.