A Lannister Always Pays His Debts — But Do Too Many Of His Fans Watch For Free?

Jun 7, 2013
Originally published on May 6, 2015 9:51 pm

For today's All Things Considered story about people sharing their Netflix or Hulu Plus passwords, producer Sami Yenigun latched on to what could've been an ordinary entertainment-business story and front-loaded it with snippets of sound from Game of Thrones — attacking dragons, evil kings, treacherous harlots. He made it hilarious.

But if you don't have three minutes to listen, here's the gist: Analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities believes that as many as 20 percent of the people using subscription-based streaming services such as Hulu Plus, HBO Go and Netflix aren't paying for them — but are using other people's passwords.

Pachter sees password-sharing as a real challenge for an industry that's still in development. And he says there are ways companies might start cracking down — basically, by giving different IDs to a limited number of people who share the same account.

"So if two people use the same user ID at the same time, then the content owner is going to be notified there's an illicit user, and they'll probably turn off both accounts," Pachter explains, adding that there's a risk there in ticking off the legitimate users.

The heads of several of these companies have publicly stated they're not terribly bothered by password-sharing. But recently Netflix added an option that seemed to indicate concern; it allows four people to legally stream videos at the same time.

Pachter predicts that'll never happen with HBO Go. Persuading the cable companies — once one of only a few pipelines, and still a gateway, between content producer and consumer — to acquiesce to the idea would probably take an army.

Or — cue sound — a dragon.

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The TV event of the weekend is on Sunday on HBO. It's the season finale of "Game of Thrones." Its ratings have been huge this year. It was the most watched show on all of cable last week aside from basketball. That's especially notable because not everyone who has cable can watch "Game of Thrones." You have to pay extra for an HBO subscription. But as NPR's Neda Ulaby explains, some fans get what we'll call the sneaky friends and family discount.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Comedian Jessica Halem is one of those people who just loves HBO.

JESSICA HALEM: Because I love made-for-television premium shows where there's cursing and violence.


But Halem is not going to pay to watch "Game of Thrones" on Sunday.



JEROME FLYNN: (as Bronn) But what if I don't?

ULABY: Her parents were nice enough to share their password to HBO Go, the streaming service that lets her watch on her computer.

HALEM: Luckily, they can't see what I'm watching.


HARRY LLOYD: (as Viserys Targaryen) What have you seen?

ROXANNE MCKEE: (as Doreah) I've seen a man from Asshai with a dagger of real dragon glass.

LLOYD: (as Viserys Targaryen) Ooh.

ULABY: And there's a house in Philadelphia with a bunch of roommates eager to see "Game of Throne's" finale.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I have Hulu and Netflix and HBO Go.

ULABY: But this guy does not pay for all of them. He and his friends are promiscuous with their passwords.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Oh, come on, let us see it. Everybody talks about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Me and people in my circle commonly refer to this as hipster cable.


PETER DINKLAGE: (as Tyrion Lannister) We're going to need details. Copious details.

ULABY: Here's how Hipster cable works in this case. Our guy, who does not want his name used on the air, traded his Hulu Plus password for his friend's Netflix and HBO GO passwords.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: This HBO Go does not belong to my friend Kitty who gives it to me. That HBO Go belongs to her parents. And they gave her the password and stuff so she could use it and then, by a proxy, share it with me.


DINKLAGE: (as Tyrion Lannister) We owe them tens of millions.

ULABY: So this single password is getting shared by our guy, his housemates and probably Kitty's brothers, potentially dozens of people.

MICHAEL PACHTER: People should know better.

ULABY: That scold comes from tech analyst Michael Pachter of the firm Wedbush Securities. He estimates 20 percent of people streaming video use passwords they did not pay for.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: They should know they're stealing and they should not think it's OK.

ULABY: And Pachter says there are ways these companies could start cracking down.

PACHTER: Register the members of the household with the account so if two people use the same user ID at the same time, then the content owner is going to be notified that there's an illicit use, and they'll probably turn off both.

ULABY: Netflix and other companies claim they're not bothered by password-sharers. But recently, Netflix added an option that seemed to indicate concern. It allows four people to legally stream videos at the same time. Convincing the cable companies to allow a similar option for HBO Go would probably take an army.



ULABY: Or a dragon. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.