Streaming television is the digital distribution of television content, such as TV shows, as streaming media 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. The use of streaming online video and streaming television is concentrated on streaming video on demand platforms such as Netflix, Tubi, Crackle, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Vudu, Showmax, Peacock, Disney+, Apple TV+, BET+, and Paramount+.[a]
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 Mbit/s, 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:MPEG video compression and asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) data transmission.
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. The first generation Apple TV was released in 2007 and in 2008 the first generation Roku streaming device was announced. Digital media players also began to become available to the public during this time. These digital media players have continued to be updated and new generations released.
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.
Access to television programming has evolved from computer and television access to include mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. Corresponding apps for mobile devices started to become available via app stores in 2008, but they grew in popularity in the 2010s with the rapid deployment of LTE cellular network. These mobile apps allow users to view provided streaming media on mobile devices which support them.
In 2008, the International Academy of Web Television, headquartered in Los Angeles, formed in order to organize and support television actors, authors, executives, and producers in web series and streaming television. The organization also administers the selection of winners for the Streamy Awards. In 2009, the Los Angeles Web Series Festival was founded. Several other festivals and award shows have been dedicated solely to web content, including the Indie Series Awards and the Vancouver Web Series Festival. In 2013, in response to the shifting of the soap opera All My Children from broadcast to streaming television, a new category for "Fantastic web-only series" in the Daytime Emmy Awards was created. Later that year, Netflix made history by earning the first Primetime Emmy Award nominations for a streaming television series, for Arrested Development, Hemlock Grove, and House of Cards, at the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards. Hulu earned the first Emmy win for Outstanding Drama Series, for The Handmaid's Tale at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards.
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. Sky launched a similar streaming service in the UK called Now TV.
In 2013, streaming video website Netflix earned the first Primetime Emmy Award nominations for original streaming television at the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards. Three of its web series, House of Cards, Arrested Development, and Hemlock Grove, earned nominations that year. On July 13, 2015, cable company Comcast announced an HBO plus broadcast TV package at a price discounted from basic broadband plus basic cable.
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.
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 consumers being unhappy with their own network bandwidth being used for transmitting content to other viewers. Samsung TV has also announced their plans to provide streaming options including 3D Video on Demand through their Explore 3D service.
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 users the option to "lock" content, requiring a password to access it. The goal of these systems is to enable parents to keep children from viewing sexually themed, violent, or otherwise age-inappropriate material. 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.
Main article: IPTV
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 Disney+, Catchplay, Hotstar, meWATCH, iWantTFC, Vidio, Sky Go, YouTube, Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max, Discovery+, YuppTV, Crunchyroll, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, SonyLIV, myTV, NOW, Noggin, Viu, ZEE5, MX Player, Voot.|
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 (1080p) video encoded in H.264 is 6000 kbit/s, whereas 4K Ultra HD requires upwards of 16,000 kbit/s.
For users who do not have the bandwidth to stream HD/4K video or even SD video, most streaming platforms make use of an adaptive bitrate stream so that if the user's bandwidth suddenly drops, the platform will lower its streaming bitrate to compensate. Most modern television streaming platforms offer a wide range of both manual and automatic bitrate settings which are based on initial connection tests during the first few seconds of a video loading, and can be changed on the fly. This is valid for both Live and Catch-up content. Additionally, platforms can also offer content in standards such as HDR or Dolby Vision or at higher framerates which can require additional costs or subscription tiers to access.
Internet television is common in most US households as of the mid 2010s. About one in four new televisions being sold is now a smart TV. Within the same decade, rapid deployment of LTE cellular network and general availability of smartphones have increased popularity of the streaming services, and the corresponding apps on mobile devices.
Considering the popularity of smart TVs, smartphones, 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.
Some have noted that as opposed to broadcast television, with demographics of mostly "unspokenly straight" white viewers, cable, and with streaming services, dollars from subscription can "level the playing field," giving viewers from marginalized communities, and representation of their communities, "equal power."
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 (also called Streaming rights in this case) 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[when?] 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.
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 currently has over 217 million members. 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.
|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
|APSFL IPTV||SAYT-TV2||Andhra Pradesh, India||No||No||No||No||APSFL Android Player||No||No||APSFL IPTV and video on Demand||Yes|
|BBC iPlayer||BBC||UK||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Wii, PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S||Android TV, Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Philips||Virgin Media On Demand, Freesat, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast||No|
|Peacock||NBCUniversal||US||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S||Android TV, Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Philips||Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast||Yes|
|Jio TV||LYF||India||No||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||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||UK & Ireland||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S||Android TV, Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Philips||Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast||No|
|Eros Now||Eros||India||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Eros Android Player||No||Yes||Bollywood on Demand, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast||Yes|
|ITV Hub||ITV||UK||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S||Android TV||Virgin Media On Demand, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast||Yes|
|ABC iview||ABC||Australia||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S||Android TV, Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Philips||Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV||Yes|
|SBS On Demand||SBS||Australia||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S||Android TV, Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Philips||Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV||Yes|
|7plus||Seven West Media||Australia||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S||Android TV, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Philips||Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV||Yes|
|9Now||Nine Entertainment||Australia||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S||Android TV, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Philips||Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV||Yes|
|10Play||ViacomCBS||Australia||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S||Android TV, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Philips||Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV||Yes|
|Foxtel Now||Foxtel||Australia||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||PS4 and PS5||Android TV, Samsung, LG, Sony, Hisense||Apple TV and Chromecast||No|
|All 4||Channel 4||UK & Ireland||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S||Android TV||Virgin Media On Demand, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast||Yes|
|Hulu||Disney||US||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Wii, Nintendo Switch, PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S||Android TV, LG, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Philips, Vizio||Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV||No|
|RTÉ Player||RTÉ||Ireland||Yes||Yes||Yes||Android TV||Apple TV and Chromecast||Yes|
|TG4 Beo||TG4||Ireland and Worldwide/International||Yes||Android TV||Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast||Yes|
|Virgin Media Player||Virgin Media Ireland||Ireland||Yes||Yes||Yes||Android TV||Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast||Yes|
|Global Video||Global||Canada||Yes||Yes||Yes||Android TV||Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast||No|
|CBC Gem||CBC||Canada||Yes||Yes||Yes||Android TV||Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast||Yes|
|myTV||OSN, Rotana Group, SNA Corp||Americas, Australasia||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|