In a surprise move, Bell Media has announced it will air the first season of Game of Thrones on CTV next month.

Many Canadian Game of Thrones fans have long complained that the hugely popular series is difficult to access legally — because Bell made it available only to top-tier cable subscribers.

But now viewers can tune into Season 1 with just basic cable or even without a subscription — if their TV antenna picks up Bell’s CTV network.

Game of Thrones has never been more popular and now it’s time to make Season 1 available to every Canadian viewer,” Mike Cosentino, senior vice-president of CTV programming, said in a statement.

Peace offering?

“This is their version of an olive branch,” observes Daniel Bader, senior editor with the tech site Mobile Nations.

But will the olive branch be enough to appease angry Thrones fans who felt shut out? Meghan Sali, with the consumer advocacy group OpenMedia, doesn’t think so.

She calls the offer of Season 1 a “piecemeal, throw-you-a-bone,” move — a move she says won’t please anyone who religiously follows the series and yearns for a way to legally access current episodes without a pricey cable subscription.

“It is in a sense too little, too late.”

So instead of assuaging upset Thrones fans, she concludes, “I could actually see this potentially fanning the flames.”

Angry pirates

Some Canadians get fired up whenever HBO airs a new Game of Thrones season. Bell Media owns the rights to HBO content in Canada.

To tune in, subscribers typically have to pay around $20 for a Movie Network package on top of the cost of a regular TV plan.

So some people feel justified in pirating the series because there isn’t a more affordable way to access current episodes. Americans can sign up for the streaming service HBO Now, for $14.99 US a month. But it’s not available in Canada.

Toronto Thrones fan Theresa Kiefer says she’ll happily tune in to Season 1 on CTV. “This is great news and even though there will be commercial interruptions, I’ll be watching.”

But she adds that the offer does nothing to solve the problem of non-cable subscribers who want to watch current episodes.

Fellow Toronto Thrones fan, Amy Leaman agrees. She says she watched Season 6,which recently aired, by pirating it. “I just streamed it online, really bad quality off of sketchy websites.”

Leaman says she would happily pay a reasonable price to legally stream current episodes, but doesn’t believe it’s worth the price of a large cable package.

“It’s exceptionally annoying and it’s shocking to me that it even works that way,” she says.

Could a free season of Game of Thrones make some disgruntled fans even more upset? (HBO Canada)

Leaman adds that her mindset hasn’t changed with the announcement that she can legally watch the first season free next month.

“For somebody who’s watched the whole series and had trouble watching it as it was coming out, I’m not that interested.”

But she believes many people who have never seen Game of Thrones will probably embrace the chance to tune in without a cable subscription.

“I know people who would be excited about it.”

‘Like a free trial’

Bader believes Bell making the show available on CTV is a smart move, because it will showcase one of its premium products.

“It’s sort of like a free trial,” says the tech analyst. “They are trying to get as many people as possible who haven’t seen the show to watch it so that they can up-sell them to the current premium [TV] packages.”

But Vancouver-based Sali believes the move could backfire by introducing people to a show that often quickly turns new viewers into ardent fans. “They’re going to watch one season and then they’re going to want to watch the rest of it,” says Sali.

She adds that when those new fans discover they can’t watch current episodes without a top-tier cable subscription, they might resort to piracy.

“So this is potentially going to create more Canadian pirates,” she concludes.

Bell told CBC News last month that while it continues “to assess the market,” it has no plans to make the show available without a cable subscription.

It also said that piracy “is illegal and immoral, and harms the creative community and everyone else involved in the production of television content.”

Game of Thrones season 1 Marathon Schedule on CTV:

Monday, Aug. 8: Episode 1 – Winter is Coming

Tuesday, Aug. 9: Episode 2 – The Kingsroad

Wednesday, Aug. 10: Episode 3 – Lord Snow

Thursday, Aug. 11: Episode 4 – Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things

Friday, Aug. 12: Episode 5 – The Wolf and the Lion

Monday, Aug. 15: Episode 6 – A Golden Crown

Tuesday, Aug. 16: Episode 7 – You Win or You Die

Wednesday, Aug. 17: Episode 8 – The Pointy End

Thursday, Aug. 18: Episode 9 – Baelor

Friday, Aug. 19: Episode 10 – Fire and Blood

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