Internet television (or online television) is the digital distribution of television content, such as TV shows, via the public Internet (which also carries other types of data), as opposed to dedicated terrestrial television via an over the air aerial system, cable television, and/or satellite television systems. It is also sometimes called web television, though this phrase is also used to describe the genre of TV shows broadcast only online.
Internet television is a type of over-the-top content (OTT content). "Over-the-top" (OTT) is the delivery of audio, video, and other media over the Internet without the involvement of a multiple-system operator (such as a cable television provider) in the control or distribution of the content. It has several elements:
- An independent service, such as Netflix or Amazon Video, Hotstar, Google Play Movies, myTV (Arabic), Sling TV, Sony LIV, Viewster, or Qello (which specializes in concerts).
- A service owned by a traditional terrestrial, cable, or satellite provider, such as DittoTV (owned by Dish TV)
- An international movies brand, such as Eros International or Eros Now
- A service owned by a traditional film or television network, television channel, or content conglomerate, such as BBC Three since 17 Jan 2016, CBSN, CNNGo, HBO Now, Now TV (UK) (owned by Sky), PlayStation Vue (owned by Sony), or Hulu (a joint venture)
- A peer-to-peer video hosting service such as YouTube, Vimeo, or Crunchyroll
- Combination services like TV UOL which combines a Brazilian Internet-only TV station with user-uploaded content, or Crackle, which combines content owned by Sony Pictures with user uploaded content
- Audio-only services like Spotify, though not "Internet television" per se, are sometimes accessible through video-capable devices in the same way
The public Internet, which is used for transmission from the streaming servers to the consumer end-user.
- A web browser running on a personal computer (typically controlled by computer mouse and keyboard) or mobile device, such as Firefox, Google Chrome, or Internet Explorer
- A mobile app running on a smartphone or tablet computer
- A dedicated digital media player, typically with remote control. These can take the form of a small box, or even a stick that plugs directly into an HDMI port. Examples include Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Google TV, Boxee, and WD TV. Sometimes these boxes allow streaming of content from the local network or storage drive, typically providing an indirect connection between a television and computer or USB stick
- A SmartTV which has Internet capability and built-in software accessed with the remote control
- A Video Game Console connected to the internet such as the Xbox One and PS4.
- A DVD player, Blu-ray player with Internet capabilities in addition to its primary function of playing content from physical discs
- A set-top box or digital video recorder provided by the cable or satellite company or an independent party like TiVo, which has Internet capabilities in addition to its primary function of receiving and recording programming from the non-Internet cable or satellite connection
Not all receiver devices can access all content providers. Most have websites that allow viewing of content in a web browser, but sometimes this is not done due to digital rights management concerns or restrictions. While a web browser has access to any website, some consumers find it inconvenient to control and interact with content with a mouse and keyboard, inconvenient to connect a computer to their television, or confusing. Many providers have mobile software applications ("apps") dedicated to receive only their own content. Manufacturers of SmartTVs, boxes, sticks, and players must decide which providers to support, typically based either on popularity, common corporate ownership, or receiving payment from the provider.
A display device, which could be:
- A television set or video projector linked to the receiver with a video connector (typically HDMI)
- A smart TV screen
- A computer monitor
- The built-in display of a smartphone or tablet computer
Comparison with IPTV
As described above, "Internet television" is "over-the-top technology" (OTT). It is delivered through the open, unmanaged Internet, with the "last-mile" telecom company acting only as the Internet service provider. Both OTT and IPTV use the Internet protocol suite 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 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 talks 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 provide two-way communication and also provide different data (e.g., TV show files) 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 syndicated 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|
|OTT (Over the Top Technology)||IPTV (Internet Protocol Television)|
|Examples||Video on demand services like Sky Go, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, YuppTV, Lovefilm, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, myTV, Now TV, Emagine||Service Example includes U-verse (AT&T)|
|Protocol||Delivered using HTTP (TCP), a connected transport protocol. Emerging trends using adaptive streaming technologies like HLS (Apple), Smooth Streaming (Microsoft) and HDS (Adobe). Delivered content over UDP in combination with FEC||Traditional IPTV uses TS (transport stream) transmission technology. Delivers content over UDP in combination with FEC, connectionless protocol|
|Content Catalog||Widely used for freemium and economical VOD delivery models||Used primarily for premium content and real time content delivery like broadcasting TV|
|Routing Topology||Unicast (Based on HTTP) or Simulated Multicast (UDP/TCP)||Multicast, Unicast burst during channel change leading multicast join|
|Major Players||Huawei OTT solutions, Accenture, Piksel, OVP (Kaltura, Brightcove, Ooyala, Mobibase), CDN Players (Akamai, Level 3, Limelight, Octoshape, Tata Communications) and Content Aggregators||TSP and IPTV Platform vendors - Huawei, Accenture, Piksel, Microsoft Mediaroom (Ericsson), Alu, Cisco,ZTE|
|Key Challenges||Low quality, Non Premium Content No Live Broadcast, Unicast model||Expensive, Competition from Cable/ DTH industry, Bandwidth and Infrastructure|
|Key Benefits||Low cost, Flexibility of content consumption across devices||Interactive Service, Quality of Service and Quality of Experience|
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 (called HbbTV) 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 a service such as peer-to-peer (P2P) technologies, 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. DRM (digital rights management) software is also incorporated into many Internet television services. Sky Go has software that is provided by Microsoft to prevent content being copied. Internet television is also cross platform, the Sky Player service has been expanded to the Xbox 360 on October 27 and to Windows Media Center and then to Windows 7 PCs on November 19. The BBC iPlayer is also available through Virgin Media's on-demand service and other platforms such as FetchTV and games consoles including the Wii and the PlayStation 3. Other Internet-television platforms include mobile platforms such as the iPhone and iPod Touch, Nokia N96, Sony Ericsson C905 and many other mobile devices.
Stream quality refers to the quality of the image and audio transferred from the servers of the distributor to the user's home screen. Higher-quality video such as video in high definition (720p+) requires higher bandwidth and faster connection speeds. The generally accepted kbit/s download rate needed to stream high-definition video that has been encoded with 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 get 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 such a large scale.
For users which 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. This diagnostic tool offered on the BBC iPlayer site measures a user's streaming capabilities and bandwidth for free.
In the last few years , Channel 4 has started providing HD content on its On Demand platforms such as iOS App, Android App and Channel4.com website. Although competitors in the UK such as Demand Five have not yet offered HD streaming , the technology to support it is fairly new and widespread HD streaming is not an impossibility. The availability of Channel 4 and Five content on YouTube is predicted to prove incredibly popular as series such as Skins, Green Wing, The X Factor and others become available in a simple, straightforward format on a website which already attracts millions of people every day.
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. Considering the vast 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.
Before 2006, most services used peer-to-peer (P2P) networking, in which users downloaded an application and data would be shared between the users rather than the service provider giving the now more commonly used streaming method. Now most service providers have moved away from the P2P systems and are now using the streaming media. The old P2P service was selected because the existing infrastructure could not handle the bandwidth necessary for centralized streaming distribution. Some consumers didn't like their upload bandwidth being consumed by their video player, which partially motivated the roll-out of centralized streaming distribution.
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 Aero 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.
Controlling content on the Internet presents a challenge for most providers; to try to ensure that a user is allowed to view content such as content with age certificates, providers use methods such as parental controls that allows restrictions to be placed upon the use and access of certificated material. The 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.
An archive is a collection of information and media much like a library or interactive-storage facility. It is a necessity for an on-demand media service to maintain archives so that users can watch content that has already been aired on standard-broadcast television. However, these archives can vary from a few weeks to months to years, depending on the curator and the type of content. For example, the BBC iPlayer's shows are in general available for up to seven days after their original broadcast. This so-called "seven-day catch-up" model seems to become an industry standard for Internet television services in many countries around the world. However, some shows may only be available for shorter periods. Others, such as the BBC's Panorama, may be available for an extended period because of the show's documentary nature or its popularity.
In contrast, All 4, Channel 4's on-demand service offers many of its television shows that were originally aired years ago. An example of this is the comedy The IT Crowd where users can view the full series on the Internet player. The same is true for other hit Channel 4 comedies such as The Inbetweeners and Black Books. The benefit of large archives is that they bring in far more users who, in turn, watch more media, leading to a wider audience base and more advertising revenue. Large archives will also mean the user will spend more time on that website rather than a competitors, leading to "starvation" of demand for the competitors. Having an extensive archive, however, can bring problems along with benefits. Large archives are expensive to maintain and large server farms and mass storage is needed, along with ample bandwidth to transmit it all. Vast archives can be hard to catalogue and sort so that they are accessible to users.
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||Yes|
|NBC||NBC||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||PS3, Xbox 360||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|
|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|
- 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
- WPIX, Inc. v. ivi, Inc.
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