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King beyond the (pay)wall: Apple locks HBO Now for 'Game of Thrones'

Cord-cutting "Game of Thrones" fans must go through Apple to watch the new season on HBO's standalone streaming service because the episodes will run during Apple's exclusive three-month term.

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Cord cutters who want access to HBO's online-only streaming service will have to go through Apple to watch the coming season of "Game of Thrones" concurrent with its airing on devices like smartphones and over-the-top boxes. HBO

Attention, cord-cutting "Game of Thrones" fans: If you want to watch the new season of the hit fantasy while it's new, you better be an Apple fan too.

Apple's exclusive launch of HBO Now will last through the entire fifth season of "Game of Thrones." That exclusive lasts three months, HBO said, and because HBO Now's launch in early April precedes the season premiere April 12, a standard 10-episode season will run its course before owners of Roku, Google's Chromecast or Amazon's Fire TV will get a shot at subscribing.

A Roku representative said broad distribution is important for content providers generally and is especially significant for a new service aimed at gaining as many subscribers as possible. A Google representative said the HBO Go app already works with Chromecast and HBO subscribers can still get content that way. Amazon didn't respond to messages seeking comment.

HBO Now is designed be similar to HBO Go without the requirement of a full cable or satellite TV service: It will provide online streams of HBO's lineup of shows and movies but, unlike HBO Go, will be available for $15 a month all on its own. HBO Chief Executive Richard Plepler unveiled Apple's exclusive Monday at a San Francisco event that headlined the electronics giant's debut of the Apple Watch. HBO Now will launch through iPhone, iPad and Apple TV -- and no other digital distributors -- during the three-month term.

People outside the Apple ecosystem may have a couple cracks to wiggle their way through. An HBO representative said Apple's deal is in the category of "new digital distributors" and that the company is still in talks with pay-television providers about launching with them. A deal with any of those companies could allow consumers to sign up elsewhere and watch through an Internet browser.

Those who sign up through Apple don't necessarily need to watch HBO Now on their Apple devices -- they can watch it through a browser as well at HBONow.com. And given Plepler's past comments that he doesn't mind customers sharing their passwords for HBO Go with nonsubscribers, you could just find an Apple-loving friend to share some log-in credentials with you.

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