Streaming television (also known as streaming TV, online TV, Internet TV, or TV streaming) is the digital distribution of television content, such as TV shows, as streaming video delivered over the Internet. Streaming TV stands in contrast to dedicated terrestrial television delivered by over-the-air aerial systems, cable television, and/or satellite television systems.
Up until the 1990s, it was not thought possible that a television programme could be squeezed into the limited telecommunication bandwidth of a copper telephone cable to provide a streaming service of acceptable quality, as the required bandwidth of a digital television signal was around 200 Mbps, which was 2,000 times greater than the bandwidth of a speech signal over a copper telephone wire. Streaming services were only made possible as a result of two major technological developments: discrete cosine transform (DCT) video compression and asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) data transmission. DCT is a lossy compression technique that was first proposed by Nasir Ahmed in 1972, and was later adapted into a motion-compensated DCT algorithm for video coding standards such as the H.26x formats from 1988 onwards and the MPEG formats from 1991 onwards. Motion-compensated DCT video compression significantly reduced the amount of bandwidth required for a television signal, while at the same time ADSL increased the bandwidth of data that could be sent over a copper telephone wire. ADSL increased the bandwidth of a telephone line from around 100 kbps to 2 Mbps, while DCT compression reduced the required bandwidth of a digital television signal from around 200 Mbps down to about 2 Mpps. The combination of DCT and ADSL technologies made it possible to practically implement streaming services at around 2 Mbps bandwidth.
The mid-2000s were the beginning of television programs becoming available via the Internet. The video-sharing site YouTube was launched in early 2005, allowing users to share illegally posted television programs. YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim said the inspiration for YouTube first came from Janet Jackson's role in the 2004 Super Bowl incident, when her breast was exposed during her performance, and later from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Karim could not easily find video clips of either event online, which led to the idea of a video sharing site. Apple's iTunes service also began offering select television programs and series in 2005, available for download after direct payment. A few years later, television networks and other independent services began creating sites where shows and programs could be streamed online. Amazon Video began in the United States as Amazon Unbox in 2006, but did not launch worldwide until 2016. Netflix, a website originally created for DVD rentals and sales, began providing streaming content in 2007. In 2008 Hulu, owned by NBC and Fox, was launched, followed by tv.com in 2009, owned by CBS. Digital media players also began to become available to the public during this time. The first generation Apple TV was released in 2007 and in 2008 the first generation Roku streaming device was announced.
Smart TVs took over the television market after 2010 and continue to partner with new providers to bring streaming video to even more users. As of 2015 smart TVs are the only type of middle to high-end television being produced. Amazon's version of a digital media player, Amazon Fire TV, was not offered to the public until 2014. These digital media players have continued to be updated and new generations released. Access to television programming has evolved from computer and television access, to also include mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. Apps for mobile devices started to become available via app stores in 2008. These mobile apps allow users to view content on mobile devices that support the apps. After 2010 traditional cable and satellite television providers began to offer services such as Sling TV, owned by Dish Network, which was unveiled in January 2015. DirecTV, another satellite television provider launched their own streaming service, DirecTV Now, in 2016. In 2017 YouTube launched YouTube TV, a streaming service that allows users to watch live television programs from popular cable or network channels, and record shows to stream anywhere, anytime. As of 2017, 28% of US adults cite streaming services as their main means for watching television, and 61% of those ages 18 to 29 cite it as their main method. As of 2018, Netflix is the world's largest streaming TV network and also the world's largest Internet media and entertainment company with 117 million paid subscribers, and by revenue and market cap.
The Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) consortium of industry companies (such as SES, Humax, Philips, and ANT Software) is currently promoting and establishing an open European standard for hybrid set-top boxes for the reception of broadcast and broadband digital television and multimedia applications with a single-user interface.
As of the 2010s, providers of Internet television use various technologies to provide VoD systems and live streaming. BBC iPlayer makes use of the Adobe Flash Player to provide streaming-video clips and other software provided by Adobe for its download service. CNBC, Bloomberg Television and Showtime use live-streaming services from BitGravity to stream live television to paid subscribers using the HTTP protocol.
BBC iPlayer originally incorporated peer-to-peer streaming, moved towards centralized distribution for their video streaming services. BBC executive Anthony rose cited network performance as an important factor in the decision, as well as the unhappiness among consumers unhappy with their own network bandwidth being consumed for transmitting content to other viewers.
Some streaming services incorporate digital rights management. The W3C made the controversial decision to adopt Encrypted Media Extensions due in large part to motivations to provide copy protection for streaming content. Sky Go has software that is provided by Microsoft to prevent content being copied.
Additionally, BBC iPlayer makes use of a parental control system giving parents the option to "lock" content, meaning that a password would have to be used to access it. Flagging systems can be used to warn a user that content may be certified or that it is intended for viewing post-watershed. Honour systems are also used where users are asked for their dates of birth or age to verify if they are able to view certain content.
IPTV delivers television content using signals based on the Internet protocol (IP), through the open, unmanaged Internet with the "last-mile" telecom company acting only as the Internet service provider (ISP). As described above, "Internet television" is "over-the-top technology" (OTT). Both IPTV and OTT use the Internet protocol over a packet-switched network to transmit data, but IPTV operates in a closed system—a dedicated, managed network controlled by the local cable, satellite, telephone, or fiber-optic company. In its simplest form, IPTV simply replaces traditional circuit switched analog or digital television channels with digital channels which happen to use packet-switched transmission. In both the old and new systems, subscribers have set-top boxes or other customer-premises equipment that communicates directly over company-owned or dedicated leased lines with central-office servers. Packets never travel over the public Internet, so the television provider can guarantee enough local bandwidth for each customer's needs.
The Internet protocol is a cheap, standardized way to enable two-way communication and simultaneously provide different data (e.g., TV-show files, email, Web browsing) to different customers. This supports DVR-like features for time shifting television: for example, to catch up on a TV show that was broadcast hours or days ago, or to replay the current TV show from its beginning. It also supports video on demand—browsing a catalog of videos (such as movies or television shows) which might be unrelated to the company's scheduled broadcasts.
IPTV has an ongoing standardization process (for example, at the European Telecommunications Standards Institute).
|Content provider||Local telecom||Studio, channel, or independent service|
|Transmission network||Local telecom - dedicated owned or leased network||Public Internet + local telecom|
|Receiver||Local telecom provides (set-top box)||Purchased by consumer (box, stick, TV, computer, or mobile)|
|Display device||Screen provided by consumer||Screen provided by consumer|
|Examples||AT&T U-verse, Bell Fibe TV, Verizon Fios (IPTV service now discontinued)||Video on demand services like fuboTV, PlayStation Vue, Sky Go, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, DittoTV, YuppTV, Lovefilm, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Sony Liv, myTV, Now TV, Emagine, SlingTV, KlowdTV|
Streaming quality is the quality of image and audio transmission from the servers of the distributor to the user's screen. High-definition video (720p+) and later standards require higher bandwidth and faster connection speeds than previous standards, because they carry higher spatial resolution image content. In addition, transmission packet loss and latency caused by network impairments and insufficient bandwidth degrade replay quality. Decoding errors may manifest themselves with video breakup and macro blocks. The generally accepted download rate for streaming high-definition video encoded in H.264 is 3500 kbit/s, whereas standard-definition television can range from 500 to 1500 kbit/s depending on the resolution on screen. In the UK, the BBC iPlayer deals with the largest amount of traffic yet it offers HD content along with SD content. As more people have gotten broadband connections which can deal with streaming HD video over the Internet, the BBC iPlayer has tried to keep up with demand and pace. However, as streaming HD video takes around 1.5 GB of data per hour of video the BBC has had to invest a lot of money collected from License Fee payers to implement this on a large scale.
For users who do not have the bandwidth to stream HD video or even high-SD video, which requires 1500 kbit/s, the BBC iPlayer offers lower bitrate streams which in turn lead to lower video quality. This makes use of an adaptive bitrate stream so that if the user's bandwidth suddenly drops, iPlayer will lower its streaming rate to compensate. A diagnostic tool offered on the BBC iPlayer site measures a user's streaming capabilities and bandwidth.
Considering the popularity of smart TVs and devices such as the Roku and Chromecast, much of the US public can watch television via the Internet. Internet-only channels are now established enough to feature some Emmy-nominated shows, such as Netflix's House of Cards. Many networks also distribute their shows the next day to streaming providers such as Hulu Some networks may use a proprietary system, such as the BBC utilizes their iPlayer format. This has resulted in bandwidth demands increasing to the point of causing issues for some networks. It was reported in February 2014 that Verizon is having issues coping with the demand placed on their network infrastructure. Until long-term bandwidth issues are worked out and regulation such at net neutrality Internet Televisions push to HDTV may start to hinder growth.
Aereo was launched in March 2012 in New York City (and subsequently stopped from broadcasting in June 2014). It streamed network TV only to New York customers over the Internet. Broadcasters filed lawsuits against Aereo, because Aereo captured broadcast signals and streamed the content to Aereo's customers without paying broadcasters. In mid-July 2012, a federal judge sided with the Aereo start-up. Aereo planned to expand to every major metropolitan area by the end of 2013. The Supreme Court ruled against Aereo June 24, 2014.
Many providers of Internet television services exist—including conventional television stations that have taken advantage of the Internet as a way to continue showing television shows after they have been broadcast, often advertised as "on-demand" and "catch-up" services. Today, almost every major broadcaster around the world is operating an Internet television platform. Examples include the BBC, which introduced the BBC iPlayer on 25 June 2008 as an extension to its "RadioPlayer" and already existing streamed video-clip content, and Channel 4 that launched 4oD ("4 on Demand") (now All 4) in November 2006 allowing users to watch recently shown content. Most Internet television services allow users to view content free of charge; however, some content is for a fee.
Since 2012 around 200 over-the-top (OTT) platforms providing streamed and downloadable content have emerged. Investment by Netflix in new original content for its OTT platform reached $13bn in 2018.
Broadcasting rights vary from country to country and even within provinces of countries. These rights govern the distribution of copyrighted content and media and allow the sole distribution of that content at any one time. An example of content only being aired in certain countries is BBC iPlayer. The BBC checks a user's IP address to make sure that only users located in the UK can stream content from the BBC. The BBC only allows free use of their product for users within the UK as those users have paid for a television license that funds part of the BBC. This IP address check is not foolproof as the user may be accessing the BBC website through a VPN or proxy server. Broadcasting rights can also be restricted to allowing a broadcaster rights to distribute that content for a limited time. Channel 4's online service All 4 can only stream shows created in the US by companies such as HBO for thirty days after they are aired on one of the Channel 4 group channels. This is to boost DVD sales for the companies who produce that media.
Some companies pay very large amounts for broadcasting rights with sports and US sitcoms usually fetching the highest price from UK-based broadcasters. A trend among major content producers in North America is the use of the "TV Everywhere" system. Especially for live content, the TV Everywhere system restricts viewership of a video feed to select Internet service providers, usually cable television companies that pay a retransmission consent or subscription fee to the content producer. This often has the negative effect of making the availability of content dependent upon the provider, with the consumer having little or no choice on whether they receive the product.
Profits and costs
With the advent of broadband Internet connections, multiple streaming providers have come onto the market in the last couple of years. The main providers are Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Some of these providers such as Hulu advertise and charge a monthly fee. Other such as Netflix and Amazon charge users a monthly fee and have no commercials. Netflix is the largest provider; it has over 43 million members and its membership numbers are growing. The rise of internet TV has resulted in cable companies losing customers to a new kind of customer called "cord cutters". Cord cutters are consumers who are cancelling their cable TV or satellite TV subscriptions and choosing instead to stream TV shows, movies and other content via the Internet. Cord cutters are forming communities. With the increasing availability of video sharing websites (e.g., YouTube) and streaming services, there is an alternative to cable and satellite television subscriptions. Cord cutters tend to be younger people.
Overview of platforms and availability
|Service||Supporting company/companies||Regional availability||Website-based||Windows application||Mac application||Linux application||iOS application||Android application||Console application||TV set application||Set Top Box application||Free
|BBC iPlayer||BBC||UK||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Wii, PS3, Xbox 360||Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Philips||Virgin Media On Demand, Freesat, Roku||No|
|NBC||NBC||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||PS3, Xbox 360||Yes|
|Jio TV||LYF||India||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||LYF Android Player||No||No||Jio on Demand||Yes|
|Tivibu||Argela||TR||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Argela Android Player||Pending||None||Ttnet on Demand||No|
|Sky Go||Sky||UK & Ireland||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Xbox 360||No|
|Eros Now||Eros||India||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Eros Android Player||No||Yes||Bollywood on Demand||Yes|
|ITV Hub||ITV||UK||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||PS3||Virgin Media On Demand||Yes|
|ABC iview||Australian Broadcasting Corporation||Australia||Yes||iPad||PS3, Xbox 360||Samsung, Sony||Yes|
|All 4||Channel 4||UK & Ireland||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||PS3, Xbox 360||Virgin Media On Demand||Yes|
|Hulu||FOX, NBC Universal, ABC, Time Warner||US & Japan||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||PS3, Xbox 360||Samsung, Vizio||Roku||No|
|TG4 Beo||TG4||Ireland and Worldwide/International||Yes||Yes|
|TV3 Catch Up||TV3||Ireland||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Global Video||SBNTV1, The Sumlin Broadcasting Network, Classic Soul Channel.....||US||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||PS3, Xbox 360||Samsung, Vizio||Yes|
|myTV||OSN, Rotana Group, SNA Corp.....||North America, Canada, South America, New Zealand, Australia||No||Not Yet||Not Yet||No||Yes||Yes||Not Yet||Samsung Smart TV, LG Smart TV, Google TV||Western Digital, Boxee Box, Netgear NTV 300, Google TV devices, Samsung and Android tablets||No|
|PTCL Smart TV App||PTCL||Pakistan||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||None||Standalone PTCL Smart Settop Box||No|
|Locast||Sports Fans Consortium||U.S. regional||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||Roku, FireTV, Apple TV, Chromecast||Donation|
- Comparison of streaming media systems
- Comparison of video hosting services
- Content delivery network
- Digital television
- Interactive television
- Internet radio
- Home theatre PC
- List of free television software
- List of Internet television providers
- List of streaming media systems
- Protection of Broadcasts and Broadcasting Organizations Treaty
- Push technology
- Smart TV
- Software as a service
- Television network
- Video advertising
- Media psychology
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