The streaming service MEGOGO released the first episode of the long-awaited spin-off of the series Game of Thrones, which was called House of the Dragon. However, for many Ukrainian viewers, the premiere was overshadowed by the lack of dubbing of the series in Ukrainian. Instead, viewers can watch it with the original English soundtrack as well as the Russian dubbing. In the seventh month of a full-scale war, this approach infuriates Ukrainian users. Mezha.Media editors decided to find out why this happened.
As in the case of the super-popular TV series Game of Thrones, the rights to House of the Dragon belong to WarnerMedia’s subsidiary – HBO. In 2017, HBO struck a multi-year deal with Amedia, allowing the Russian rights holder to broadcast its content on television and its own streaming service Amediateka. In 2021, the contract between HBO and Amedia was expanded to include all series created for the HBO Max streaming service. This consolidated the position of the Russian company in the region, to which it seems that Ukraine was also included.
The right to intellectual property objects is quite a complex and confusing topic because it can be transferred, and there can be several rights holders. However, it can be said for sure that MEGOGO has had HBO content from Amedia for quite some time because it is broadcast with the logo of their service Amediateka (capital letter “A” in the upper right corner of the image).
In April 2021, HBO content briefly disappeared from MEGOGO, including popular series Game of Thrones and The Sopranos. In the comments for The Village Ukraine the service then notified that this happened due to the decision of the rights holder. At the same time, another Ukrainian streaming OLL.TV acquired the exclusive rights to the Amediateka content library. This project is now completely frozen due to the decision of the main investor, SCM Rinat Akhmetov, to leave Media Group Ukraine, to which OLL.TV belonged. Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, and other HBO content returned to MEGOGO in November 2021, several months after disappearing.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February provoked a corresponding reaction from most companies that create and own content. Russians lost the opportunity to watch movie premieres of major studios, and Netflix and Spotify left the country. However, a strange situation occurred with the content of HBO Max, at first the company announced the suspension of its business in Russia, but already in the summer, there was information about the continuation of cooperation between HBO and Amedia. Thanks to this, Russian viewers were able to watch the premiere of House of the Dragon.
HBO itself notes that they are simply fulfilling the contract because Amedia is not a sub-sanctioned company.
“While we paused any new business in Russia, we continue to fulfill contractual obligations (where entities aren’t sanctioned),” said HBO spokeswoman Anna Nicoll, in response to a request from Insider.
MEGOGO, in turn, declares that they have removed all content produced by the Russian Federation, do not cooperate with the occupying country, and note that they cannot yet interfere with the audio tracks provided to the series House of the Dragon by the rights holder HBO. The company’s press service replied that the company received the rights to it from an unnamed Ukrainian distributor, and not directly from Amedia.
“In the case of House of the Dragon we are talking about the content of the American rights holder. It is important for us that the Ukrainian viewer has legal access to top premieres and is in the world cultural context, as well as part of the global legal market. All audio tracks to the content belong to the right holder and are given to us in the finished form, in which we have to open them, according to the agreements. Otherwise, it will be a violation of agreements,” the MEGOGO press service reported in a comment for Mezha.Media.
The company also states that it constantly raises the issue of Ukrainian dubbing before the rights holders and is ready to pay for it itself. In addition, the Ukrainian dubbing of House of the Dragon is supposedly in the works, but MEGOGO does not specify when it may appear.
“At all profile meetings with partners, we emphasize the importance of Ukrainian content dubbing and fight for the interests of the country and our viewers. Currently, we are already working on the creation of the Ukrainian dubbing for House of the Dragon. This requires the consent of the rights holder because it is an interference with the content. We are ready to do it at our own expense and always offer our services to partners in the world,” MEGOGO says.
Summarizing all the available information, it turns out that without receiving the dubbing of the series House of the Dragon in the native language, the Ukrainian viewer has to some extent become a hostage of HBO’s politics. Without having the contract in hand, it is difficult to say whether Amedia is the exclusive rights holder of HBO content in several countries at once. However, it is unlikely that Ukrainian companies would abandon a direct contract if they could afford it and continue to buy through Amedia or other intermediaries. Especially since this is accompanied by image losses due to the lack of Ukrainian dubbing, which is not a problem even during martial law, as evidenced by the premieres of films in Ukrainian cinemas and Netflix.
Let’s hope that HBO will change its approach to the Ukrainian market, at least MEGOGO told us that the company is “working to have a direct contract”.