Game of Thrones fans are counting down the days until April 12, when HBO's fantasy drama returns for its fifth season. To tune in, they'll flip to HBO on TV, watch HBO Go on their laptops or tablets, or fire up the just-launched standalone service HBO Now.
Then, there are the not-so-legal options.
Game of Thrones was the most illegally downloaded show of 2014. With a little digging, you can find a non-sanctioned livestream online. And now, with apps like Periscope and Meerkat, illicit broadcasting has never been easier.
"A lot of people who don't want to pay the price of HBO can rely on the ease and the multiplicity of devices," explained Stacy Debroff, CEO of social media firm Mom Central Consulting and a former litigator. "It's not relying on a video tape or a DVR. You just live pick up whatever you want at the touch of a button and share it with your friends."
For a broadcaster like NBC, a livestream of a program not only affects its rights but any deals it has with affiliates, third-party producers and music publishers. Still, svp of editorial and innovation for NBC News, Julian March, said that wouldn't stop the company from trying out Periscope and Meerkat.
"We are experimenting [with livestreaming apps], but we would never use this platform to stream the broadcast as is," March said. "Companies like us have to pay attention to rights issues, which are an absolute factor."
For its part, Twitter, which owns Periscope, said it is serious about protecting copyright holders' rights. Any company can email Periscope to take its content down, and the platform reserves the right to remove copyrighted items without prior notice.
An HBO spokesperson said it had anti-piracy plans in place for the premiere of Game of Thrones, but giving specifics would be "counterproductive" to the problem. Debroff believes networks like HBO already have protective action deals with apps like Periscope and Meerkat in place, where the services will actively police mentions of the show so they can quickly move to stop illicit activity.
Still, Debroff pointed out, "It's going to take some time for the discovery and for it to be shut down."
Fox Sports digital vp of business development Ben Maggin said issues like these always arise with new technologies. And broadcasters just have to deal with them as they come.
"With any new platform there are always rights issues that are involved," Maggin said. "With Periscope and Meerkat, it's too early to tell."