The popular television show "Game of Thrones" has become harder to follow, with all the characters that come and go. But it has also become much easier to watch online.
Read that again. No cable subscription required - and no contract or commitment. For cord-cutters, those of us who have abandoned cable television plans, this is a huge coup and a stark contrast from the situation just a few years ago.
The problem facing cord-cutters was depicted in 2012, when The Oatmeal, the Web comic, ridiculed HBO for making it difficult to watch "Game of Thrones" online. In the strip, a boy who gets his TV from Internet sources like Netflix fails to find a way to download the show legally and ends up watching pirated episodes.
The cheeky comic strip was somewhat prescient. In 2012, "Game of Thrones" was the most pirated show of the year, with 4.3 million downloads for a single episode, according to the website TorrentFreak.
With the HBO Now app, HBO is adding to the new array of options available to people who want to give up their cable subscriptions and choose only the movies and TV shows they actually want to see. (My colleague Emily Steel gave a roundup of many of those options last month.)
Before this week, the primary method to watch HBO on a streaming device was through the HBO Go app, which required a cable subscription. And even that was a bit complicated - some cable providers chose not to support the app on certain devices even if their customers did subscribe to the channel.
But enough of the old regime - let's move on to the new one. The HBO Now app is, for the most part, available on Apple devices for the time being. On Tuesday, ahead of Sunday's premiere of Season 5 of "Game of Thrones," HBO Now was released for Apple devices, including the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. Cablevision's broadband customers can also get access to the service through an Apple device or computer Web browser. The HBO Now service costs $15 a month, though the first month is free.
So how do cord-cutters tune in? Apple and HBO began pushing out the HBO Now software on Tuesday, and HBO listed the steps for signing up for the service on its website.
To summarize: Customers with black Apple TV set-top boxes should have automatically received the new HBO Now app by now. (The devices should be running the latest version of Apple TV's software.)
Apple customers with an iPhone or iPad will be able to download the HBO Now app from the App Store. They can subscribe to the service through the App Store's in-app payment system, or through an iTunes account on the Apple TV. Then they tune in on those Apple devices by using the HBO Now app, or by opening HBONow.com on a computer Web browser.
Cablevision's Internet subscribers can order the service on the company's website, Optimum.net/HBONOW, or by calling 866-262-9329. Cablevision customers can then log into the HBO Now app on Apple devices, or through a Web browser by visiting hbonow.com.
Apple has a loose exclusive on HBO Now. For 90 days, Apple will be the only digital device maker offering the app. But the terms of the exclusive partnership do not apply to cable providers like Comcast or Time Warner Cable. Those providers could offer HBO Now today, though neither of those companies has announced plans to support it yet. Right now the only options are Apple or Cablevision.
All that said, overseas customers are out of luck: The HBO Now app is available only in the United States. Jeff Cusson, a spokesman for HBO, said the company "has no plans at this time to go overseas with it." He noted, however, that the network has a broad international business, offering its programming in more than 60 countries and licensing its content in over 150 markets.
There is one more way to watch the "Game of Thrones" premiere this weekend without a standard cable subscription: Sling TV. That is Dish Network's $20-a-month Internet TV service, which includes a slimmer bundle of channels.
Last week, Dish said it would offer Sling TV users access to HBO for an extra $15 a month. Sling TV users will get HBO's live channel, as well as on-demand content, and the overall service does not require a contract commitment.