When you stream Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There’s no middle ground.
Thrones fans without an HBO subscription love the idea of bars screening the show every Sunday. Naturally, HBO doesn’t quite agree – and has been cracking down on bars advertising watch parties.
David Zoltan of Chicago’s own Geek Bar recently received a cease and desist letter for a Game of Thrones watch party the bar was set to host. “[It stated] we couldn’t hold a public event where we could make money directly or indirectly from the event. That screening is reserved for private parties and for friends to gather and watch the show.”
Geek Bar’s warning is odd considering the TV/film demographic they cater to. But they’re not the only pop culture-centric bar to get in HBO’s bad graces.
Videology, a bar-meets-screening-room in Brooklyn, made headlines on April 20th when they shut down their Game of Thrones screening nights after receiving a letter from HBO. And their regulars weren’t happy, taking to social media to express their distaste.
Many other bars in Chicago screen the show, and some – like Uptown’s Fat Cat – have been scared away by HBO’s influence. Uptown Lounge is also known for their Walking Dead and Mad Men viewing nights, of which owner Cy Oldham says AMC has been “very supportive of.”
While AMC isn’t quite as exclusive as HBO, Geek Bar’s David Zoltan explained, “I as a business owner would happily pay a licensing fee to screen it…We do for most of the movies we show at the bar in fact. But they’re not even giving that as an option.”
It makes sense HBO wouldn’t want every bar on the block streaming their mega-popular show, but going after bars catering to the culture that built shows like Game of Thrones with such rigidity is greedy. Host of the unofficial Game of Thrones podcast “You Got GoT” Sophia Porter had this to say:
“The thing that they have yet to realize is that the fans of the show and books are the ones who helped lay the groundwork for what Game of Thrones is now. Without them, the worldwide phenomenon wouldn’t exist,” Porter told me. “People wouldn’t be gathering around their respective televisions or computers on Sunday nights, singing loudly along with the wordless theme song.”
I’m not advocating picking favorites, but there does seem to be a disconnect. HBO insists they don’t want their show to be shown in a public setting where bars can profit directly or indirectly. Yet they support viewing parties in private homes and groups, to which Zoltan said, “Are they going to send [a letter] to Grubhub and places that deliver food to people watching it at home?”
HBO has no doubt had a rough time with people stealing their material. Game of Thrones is the most pirated show right now, the first five episodes of the fifth season were leaked, and everyone from your roommate to HBO’s own Mark Duplass steals HBO Go passwords.
““The thing that they have yet to realize is that the fans of the show and books are the ones who helped lay the groundwork for what Game of Thrones is now. Without them, the worldwide phenomenon wouldn’t exist.”
But of all places to crack down on, bar screenings that encourage participation in a pop-culture phenomenon isn’t the right area to prioritize. The pirating is – although given the exclusivity of HBO’s programs, it’s no wonder it’s the most illegally watched show.
Porter added, “HBO Now is somewhat cheaper than getting HBO Go, but if you’re like me and still a college student paying for Netflix and school…it’s not an expense that I and many others can afford. So going to Geek Bar or one of the many other bars that do this seems like a great opportunity.”
Finding a bar that screens Game of Thrones is now a lot like finding a speakeasy in the 20’s – by (quiet) word of mouth. I called up one popular Chicago bar that I knew screened Game of Thrones to ask them if they had any issues with HBO. The bartender laughed and told me, “we have not gotten a letter, but we will if they know we are streaming it.” So I will keep them nameless.
This conflict is a new beast that comes with the rapid growth of TV and Film culture in the streaming age. And it’s something that we’re not quite sure how to balance yet.
But for now, it’s a bit of a punch in the gut of the fans, especially those who have an HBO subscription but want the bar watch party experience.
Despite the fact that HBO has bars huddling in fear while they sit up on their Iron Throne, public viewing events are far from over.
As fans? The best we can hope for is that HBO can figure out a compromise.
Until then, when you go to bars to get your Game of Thrones fix, take in that extra thrill of sticking it to the HBO-man.
And make sure to keep quiet about it.