Why HBO Lets Viewers Share Passwords to Watch Game of Thrones

May 14, 2019

HBO knows you’re using your cousin’s roommate’s sister-in-law’s log-in to watch Game of Thrones and the battle for the Iron Throne. It doesn’t really care.

Nearly two-thirds of people say they share their HBO NOW credentials or use someone else’s log-in. HBO knows it’s going on and has put some limits in place – one account can only host three simultaneous streams at once. But it hasn’t put a lot of energy into stopping password sharing.

HBO — Password Sharing is OK

Previous HBO execs have said piracy is “better than an Emmy” in terms of awareness, and have cited shared accounts as a marketing tool for future customers. “We’re in the business of creating addicts,” former HBO CEO Richard Plepler told BuzzFeed.

Despite HBO’s cavalier attitude, password sharing can have a negative financial impact – it could cost providers half a billion dollars in 2019. Rather than chase down that revenue, HBO sees more value in a different Game of Thrones marketing strategy.

HBO recognizes that getting more eyeballs on screens means more awareness and enthusiasm for the show, which drives up subscriptions. And it has – in a big way. HBO NOW membership shot up 91 percent during Game of Thrones’ seventh season.

HBO Marketing is Focused Elsewhere

Instead of cracking down on sharers, HBO is working to maximizing the number of news signups by making the hype around the show as huge as possible on social media and elsewhere. It’s partnering with Bud Light, Shake Shack, the American Red Cross, Mountain Dew and others in a full-on advertising assault for its final season. It’s also focused on promoting all its other content to keep subscribers from cancelling once GoT ends (which has been a challenge in the past).

HBO’s challenge is something all brands struggle with – how much should you give away for free? At what point does overserving existing customers or working to attract new ones dip into the potential for revenue?

It’s a key marketing consideration, especially for organizations relying on content marketing to attract an audience and preview the value they can provide. For HBO, the cost of shared subscriptions is nothing compared to creating the most talked-about show on TV.

Long story short: Content marketing is all about giving something away that your target market values. Every brand should put a little strategy behind finding the right balance between growing your audience and converting that audience into paying customers.

This article also appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Alex Irwin.

Share this post with up to three users.

New logo for Long Story Short, the Braithwaite Communications weekly newsletter.

If you like this article, you'll love our newsletter.

We'll send you a great true story with a useful business lesson every Monday.

Thanks! You'll receive a welcome email soon. (It might go to your Junk, Clutter or Promotions folder.)