It's not iTunes, it's HBO

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Like many of you, when I cross over into the meat world I find less commonality with my fellow bipeds than I do in this domain of pixels, bits, and broadband. For instance, I’m introduced to parents of my daughter’s friends, they learn a little about what I do, and then tell me “I have a PC, but a computer’s a computer, right?” and I just smile and make agreeable noises.

I seem to have the same problem with television. The other day, my band played a wedding gig and as we set up I dialed my iPod to Flight of the Conchords’ Business Time.

“What is that?” they laughed.

“Flight of the Conchords. You know, from the HBO show?“

Blank looks and then:

“Oh, HBO“ in that “Oh, Perrier-Jouet champagne ain’t you all hoity-toity” kind of way because, ya know, when you’re paying the cable company $70 a month for 378 channels you never watch, dropping an extra $14 is extravagant.

My hope is that I’ll feel less like an outsider now that HBO has brought some of its best programs to the iTunes Store. Instead of being treated like I light my cigars with $300 bills when I mention Rome, Deadwood, or The Wire, I can now suggest that my bandmates visit the iTunes Store and check out an episode or season.

The season suggestion, in particular, isn’t a bad way to go. Yes, HBO has managed to get Apple to budge on variable pricing and episodes of Rome, Deadwood, and The Sopranos are $2.99 a shot (making a season-investment more expensive as well). But a season of any of these programs is cheaper from iTunes than it is in physical form. Amazon wants $55 for the first seasons of Deadwood or Rome. From iTunes you can have it for $36. Season one of The Sopranos is $50 from Amazon. On iTunes, it’s $39.

True, by going digital you give up the ability to pass along your DVDs to a friend when you’re done with them. And you lose out on any extras the disc sets contain. On the other hand, being able to easily pack these programs onto your iPod touch or iPhone is a pretty nice convenience. And, unlike far too many TV shows I could name, most of HBOs programs stand up to repeated viewing. I’ve squirreled away every episode of Rome and Deadwood on my TiVo and watched all of them at least twice. Now that these seasons have moved to a price range that I consider reasonable, I may finally release them from Mr. TiVo and regain enough space so that the DVR will retain programs for more than a day.

And finally, there’s this: In the case of HBO, BitTorrent is not your friend. Unlike some other TV networks, HBO is very aggressive about protecting its content, and that includes programs shared across peer-to-peer services. The company actively monitors BitTorrent for its programs and has been known to log IP addresses and then contact the host ISPs for those addresses and demand the accounts be terminated. Like Tony Soprano, you don’t want to screw around with these guys.

So huzzah, say I. Welcome, HBO. I look forward to you filling in those seasons missing from the shows you’ve provided so far and, later, the addition of such favorites as The Larry Sanders Show, Mr. Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Six Feet Under, and Angels in America.

Now if you and David Milch could sit down and work out the final details of the two proposed two-hour Deadwood episodes (and then go on to actually produce the things), my life would be complete.

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