As most subscribers will attest, the HBO Now app is pretty awesome. It's easy to use, isn't saddled with bugs, and offers access to all of HBO's content, including Game of Thrones. However, only paying customers living in the U.S. are eligible to play. Some people in other countries have found ways around the territorial restriction by way of using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), but HBO is savvy to the situation and is attempting to crack down on the practice.
Not to be confused with HBO Go, a complimentary add-on to HBO cable and satellite subscribers, HBO Now became a standalone app earlier this year. That open the floodgates for ineligible subscribers living outside the U.S. to use VPNs and other geo-unblocking tools to join in the fun. Now they're being threatened with account termination.
Yes, these are paying customers HBO is going after. While Netflix has largely turned a blind eye to geo-unblocking, HBO has reportedly sent out thousands of emails to subscribers outside the U.S.
Subscribers are then told to either contact HBO if they think the email was received in error, or sit back and wait for HBO Now to be deactivated without further notice -- there's no mention of a refund, and to rub salt in the wound, HBO reminds affected subscribers that's it's "your responsibility to cancel any automatic billing" to avoid recurring charges. Gee, thanks.
What's the big deal? It comes down to licensing deals, and HBO apparently believes that subscribers who are savvy enough to bypass location requirements are large enough in number to devalue its content.
This is a different HBO than we've known in the past. HBO programming president Michael Lombardo once told Entertainment Weekly in an interview that he wasn't overly concerned with the rampant piracy of properties like Game of Thrones, and even viewed it as a "compliment of sorts." And more recently, HBO boss Richard Plepler said he was fine with people sharing their HBO Go passwords.
"It's not that we're unmindful of it, it just has no impact on the business," Plepler told BuzzFeed.
We're not sure if there's been a change of heart at HBO over these issues, just that it's been active in going after pirates and those who run afoul of its services' ToS agreements.