Comparison of the week: Streaming vs bingeing vs torrenting Game of Thrones Season 8
It's the hot topic that arises every time a new season of Game Of Thrones sets social media ablaze: Is it okay to pirate Game of Thrones?
We compare virtually everything at Finder and our Comparison of the Week isn't afraid to tackle the big questions. This week we take a look at the best way to get your Game of Thrones fix: Streaming, bingeing or torrenting?
It's that time of the year again. As the hype starts to build for the next season of Game Of Thrones, the realisation that Foxtel is the only straightforward way to stream it here in Australia begins to kick in. Then we fly faster than a Season 7 raven into the old "pirating vs streaming" debate.
The dead horse has been beaten, beheaded and dragged through the mud.
Naturally, we've used a bit of that Melisandre magic and raised the horse from the dead just so we can give it one last whipping.
So, for the last time (until the inevitable spin-off), is pirating or streaming Game Of Thrones Season 8 the way to go or should you just wait until it's all over and buy the bloody thing in full?
For the longest time in Australia, Foxtel's media monopoly made its expensive cable and satellite service the only way to watch the most popular TV shows in Australia. Nary a day would go by when you couldn't catch some of the world's most popular shows on Foxtel's watch: The Simpsons, Family Guy, Pawn Stars and its blockbuster movie selection all kept viewers satisfied 24 hours, 7 days a week. But it cost a small fortune. In 2012, after Game of Thrones' successful second season, Foxtel penned an exclusive deal with HBO that would give it first-run rights to the US channel's most popular shows like Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones. But if you weren't thrilled about paying Foxtel a motza just to watch the Starks get nicked in The Rains of Castamere, you could simply wait a day and pay to watch it on iTunes.
In 2014, right when Aussie interest in the fantasy series was about to explode, Foxtel knocked iTunes off the Small Council with a new exclusivity deal that would make the former the sole heir to what was quickly becoming one of the most popular scripted television shows in history.
Then in 2015, local streaming video-on-demand (SVOD) provider Stan and international competitor Netflix both launched in Australia. In 2019, over 11.2 million Australians have a Netflix subscription and more than 2.6 million pay for Stan. With the huge year-on-year growth of both convenient and economic streaming solutions that offer a huge selection of TV shows and movies at the same time as the US, many consumers were left to question why they paid so much for so long for a cable or satellite service that struggled to keep up with the times.
Foxtel's own attempt at entering the SVOD ring has taken more falls than Theon Greyjoy, with a confusing rebrand (Foxtel Play and Foxtel Now) and repeated performance issues when it mattered most (Game of Thrones launch night). Over the years, this checkered, unreliable history has driven many punters to torrenting websites like PirateBay. In July 2017, 30% of Australians admitted piracy was their primary option for watching Season 7 of Game of Thrones and when all was said and done, it was reported that Season 7 was downloaded over 1 billion times.
Foxtel got jack of that and in 2017 it took a page out of Arya Stark's book and went running to the federal government with a list of names and domains to cull. The list included 160 domains for various torrenting sites and proxy URLs that provided a backdoor into sites already banned, like PirateBay.
To keep its international partners satisfied, HBO has also been watching VPN users like a three-eyed raven. Even if you wanted to pay HBO for the pleasure of streaming Game Of Thrones, it's become more and more likely you could be blocked even while hiding your IP address and browsing from another country, resulting in a terms of service (TOS) breach and leaving you out of pocket. Even with a VPN working, you're not guaranteed a steady stream over VPN and could end up worse off than you would be paying for Foxtel Now.
When it comes to watching the Game of Thrones Season 8 premiere, there's the legal way, then there's the illegal way, but there are a few factors that cause Internet bannermen to sign up to the wrong cause. Let's weigh them up:
Note: For the sake of convenience, we'll be using Foxtel's on-demand streaming option Foxtel Now for the comparison below.
|Price||Game of Thrones can be accessed via Foxtel Now's $25 per month Essentials pack. Foxtel Now's 10-day free trial (new customers only) will get you the first 2 episodes for free. You will then be charged $25 on 25 April for your first month which will take you through to 25 May, and the remaining 4 episodes with just 1 month's payment.||Technically free unless you include the potential $117,000 fine and 5-year prison sentence.||While it differs between providers, you can expect to pay roughly $2.99 (SD) and $3.49 (HD) per episode or $19.99 (SD) and $23.99 (HD) or the entire season through services like iTunes, Google Play, PlayStation Store and Microsoft Store.|
|Timing||Foxtel will stream each episode of the final season at the same time it broadcasts in the US (11am AEST on Mondays). Once the episode is live, you catch it on demand any time on Foxtel Now. If you're not into Now, you can catch it at 11am AEST and again at 8:30pm AEST every Monday on the Showcase channel.||Torrents usually go up immediately after the episode has aired but there have been cases where the episodes have leaked early via torrent sites.||The last episode of Game of Thrones Season 8 airs on 20 May 2019 and the entire season will become available on each digital movie store sometime after that. The waiting is what makes bingeing on digital movie platforms the least desirable option. Come Tuesday, Game of Thrones spoilers will be spreading like wildfire in every Internet forum and office environment in the world.|
|Reliability||Here's where Foxtel has taken a dive in the past. If you're paying the premium, you can rightfully expect to stream Game of Thrones at the same time as the rest of the world. That hasn't been the case in the past. When Season 7 premiered, Foxtel crashed due to an unexpected number of sign-ups when the first episode aired. Foxtel should have been prepared and because of this lack of foresight, many punters couldn't access the service they were already paying for.||Reliability is what keeps driving people to torrenting sites in droves. As soon as the episode is finished, you can expect to download the 700MB–1.5GB HD version of the episode within the hour (depending on your broadband connection). Once you have the file downloaded, there's no waiting, buffering or potential outages to hinder your viewing experience.||Pretty much flawless. Like torrenting, purchasing Game of Thrones episodes and seasons digitally after they've aired allows you to download them directly to your viewing device of choice.
If you're a collector, you can wait a little longer to grab the Blu-ray.
Either way, waiting gives you the most reliable, highest-quality way to watch Game of Thrones legally.
|Device compatibility||If you're paying the premium for Foxtel's IQ3 or IQ4 box, that will obviously be your platform of choice.
However, if you're a Foxtel Now subscriber, you can stream on the proprietary Foxtel Now box, Sony Android Smart TVs, iOS and Android Smartphone and Tablets, PC, Mac, Chromecast, Airplay, Telstra TV, PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox One, Samsung Smart TVs and LG Smart TVs.
|If you torrent a Game of Thrones episode, the file is yours do with what you will. That allows you to stream on essentially any device that will accept a downloaded media file. You'll have no trouble with PC and Mac, and most televisions, Blu-ray and DVD players with that allow for USB input. If you're extra savvy, you might have a network-attached storage device in your home that can be accessed by multiple televisions.||Typically, files downloaded via a digital movie store are only available to view via devices that use the respective operating system. For example, if you purchase Game of Thrones through iTunes, you'll be able to watch it on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, etc. If you purchase it on the PlayStation Store, you'll only be able to view it on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. And so on and so on.|
Overall, if you live in Australia and you want to watch Game of Thrones at the same time as the rest of the world, your best option is to sign up for Foxtel Now's free trial and pay for one month of the Essential pack. That should see you through the entirety of Season 8. You could take your chances at signing up to HBO GO via a VPN but you're not guaranteed a steady stream and while technically legal, you're breaking the TOS, meaning your account could be cancelled without notice and you'll have no recourse for a refund.
In all fairness, we've just finished bingeing Game of Thrones Seasons 1 to 7 via Foxtel Now on PlayStation 4 and Chromecast and the platform's UI has come a long way since its catastrophic Season 7 premiere. But that was always just one side of the iron coin. The other side was Foxtel's inability to keep up with viewer demand. That's an issue we can't declare resolved until the Season 8 premiere begins.
There was a time when you could safely get away with torrenting the latest episodes of Game of Thrones and while it's certainly still possible, it's more difficult than ever with the federal government blocking torrenting sites left, right and centre. You could also face some serious legal consequences doing so (assuming the distributor decides to take legal action against those downloading Game of Thrones). While it's not likely you ever will get caught, the price you would pay is too high a gamble.
We're not beholden to the idea of a single company being the money-grabbing gatekeeper to one of the world's most beloved TV shows but if you've got the means to pay for your entertainment, you should pay for your entertainment. People don't make high production dramas like Game of Thrones out of the kindness of their hearts: these things cost money and every single person who works to create it, from the boardroom at HBO, to the headlining stars, to the armies of extras, to Hot Pie, every one deserves to paid for their art. Torrenting a single episode of Game of Thrones might feel like stealing a grain of sand from the beach but it contributes to a much wider issue that's damaging the industry as a whole.
As for waiting until the season is over and bingeing it all in one fell swoop, if you've got the ironclad fortitude to avoid spoilers for the next six weeks, more power to you. It will no doubt be the best way to watch the final season of Game of Thrones. You'll just have to make peace with avoiding all social media, televised talk shows, cafes, parks, workspaces and family dinners if you want to find out how it all ends until then.
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