What is the world coming to when you can’t go out to a bar, meet with some friends, order some hot wings and beers and sit down together to watch some premium content from a cable pay channel? The New York Post reports that some party minded folks in the Big Apple are finding out this week. HBO has sent a cease and desist letter to a bar which was showing Game of Thrones on Sunday nights.
HBO brandished its Valyrian legal swords against a Brooklyn bar, forcing it to end the Sunday night “Game of Thrones” viewing parties it’s been hosting for two years.
“As a pay subscription service, HBO should not be made available in public establishments,” HBO said after sending an April 15 cease-and-desist letter to Videology Bar & Cinema in Williamsburg.
James Leet, co-owner of the Bedford Avenue bar, said the letter was as jarring as Season 3’s “Red Wedding.”
“We feel really bad that we’re not allowed to show it. We don’t have a choice,” Leet said.
By Sunday afternoon, Videology posted a message to Facebook reading: “Sorry guys. No Game of Thrones showing tonight. Or ever. Not our choice. #WinterIsHere.”
For their part, HBO says they’ve been shutting down parties like this for years, including bars which showed The Sopranos.
While I hate to do it, I think I have to side with HBO here. Their original content has become a huge driver for their market share, far more so than offering studio movies which everyone can get sooner rather than later these days. It’s the reason that Netflix is trying to copy their model with Orange is the New Black and all the rest of their in house offerings. Given the massive popularity of Thrones, it’s possible that a significant portion of their subscriber base only signed on once they heard about the show and they need to protect their interests.
Some of the customers are complaining that this is the same thing as saying they can’t invite their friends over to their house to watch it, but that’s really not a very solid argument. Your friends probably won’t be there every week, and even if they are, you are paying for a single home license. Much more to the point, it’s unlikely that you are making any extra income off of letting them watch from your living room. The bar is using the popularity of the show to draw a bigger crowd who will no doubt be ordering drinks and food. They are driving up their profits on the back of this premium content without the owner getting a cut of that cash. (I’m sure that sounds rather callous, but there you go.)
It’s not that dissimilar to the days of the big heavyweight boxing matches back in the eighties. The distributor offered one time licenses to bars and restaurants who wished to air the event. In exchange, the bar could demand an extra cover charge or some other premiums on top of hopefully getting a big crowd for the night to make up for the subscription fee. Nothing wrong with that. But the unique premium content of HBO, Showtime and the rest fall into a similar category in terms of ownership and it’s not intended for that sort of distribution arrangement without their getting compensated above and beyond a single home subscription. That’s sad for the folks who were enjoying the show at the bar, but I doubt there’s much the owners can do about it.
Here’s one part of the article which I’m guessing a lot of people will wish they hadn’t published.
Still, dozens of bars across the city continue to host “Game of Thrones” nights.
The Bedford, 10 minutes from Videology, hasn’t gotten any letters and plans to continue showing the series for the rest of this season.
Staffers at Greenpoint Heights, another bar with viewing parties, said they haven’t heard from HBO.
I’m guessing that two more letters will be on the way by the time you finish reading this.