In short, the cartoon depicts a generic Oatmeal character—presumably standing in for the Oatmeal’s creator, Matthew Inman—as he struggles to watch the HBO show Game of Thrones. With an angel on his left shoulder and a devil on his right, he weighs whether to pirate the show.
At first, the angel wins, and the character tries to pay to watch the show. He goes to Netflix, where the release date for the show is listed as “unknown.” It’s similarly unavailable on iTunes, and attempting to watch it on Hulu Plus forwards him to HBO.com, where he’s told he needs to sign up for HBO with his cable provider in order to stream the show.
“The reason I use all these other websites is because I don’t have or want cable,” the character laments.
In the end, the character realizes he’s tried everything he can to pay for the show (except pay for cable and HBO) and happily watches the show with his angel and demon.
Redditors agreed with the sentiment. “You know what would stop me from torrenting all HBO shows?” asked NULLACCOUNT. “If they just had a $5 a month option to sign up for their website without having to purchase a full cable subscription.”
“i would be all over this,” agreed elegantlydisheveled. “they would make a shit load of money.”
Recent literature on the subject says they’re not alone. A 2010 university study sought to determine how offering TV shows online affected sales and piracy. In particular, it looks at NBC’s short-lived decision in 2007 to remove its shows from iTunes, and how that was reflected in DVD sales and BitTorrent downloads of those shows. In short, this led to an additional 48,000 downloads a day of the company’s shows but had no effect on their DVD sales.
A similar study this month found that that Hollywood studios only lose money to piracy in countries that experience a long delay between a film’s American release and the release in their own country.
Screengrab from The Oatmeal