What is a Streaming Service: A Short KT Guide
Updated: September 20,2022
You might’ve heard that all our entertainment moved into the cloud and that we’re streaming everything - from music to movies - through platforms like Netflix and Apple Music. It’s so easy that every device now connects to one of these services, allowing us to enjoy our favorite entertainment while doing dishes, traveling, or waiting for a bus.
But, what is a streaming service, and how does it work? That’s what we’ll be discussing today. We’ll explain the basics of streaming technology, its application and advantages, and talk about the popular ways you can enjoy streaming media. Let’s begin.
Differences Between Downloads and Streaming
Multimedia travels over the internet in two fundamental ways - you can either download the file fully and play it or start the audio/video reproduction while the file is downloading. The latter is what’s considered streaming. But it’s a bit more convoluted than that.
You see, when you’re streaming a video, a song, or even a video game, you don’t get to interact with a file directly, like with regular downloads. Instead, whatever player or service you use will decode that file in real-time and reproduce it.
Ultimately, streaming will not leave any files on your device, which is one of the reasons people prefer it these days - you don’t have to worry about storage space, as whatever data is downloaded while streaming gets deleted in real-time when it’s not needed anymore.
Intro to Streaming Services
What are streaming services, then? Those would be online platforms that provide multimedia content - TV shows, movies, music, or audiobooks. Additionally, the content must be streamed to the end user without them having to download any files or tools to play the requested piece of media. Everything should be done through the app or the website.
Think of it as TV or radio. The age-old platforms provide a similar service of playing certain types of content without the user having to wait for the whole thing to “download” before watching a TV show or listening to a song.
But, the most significant difference is that you don’t choose what you’re going to watch or listen to on either TV or radio. Someone else has already decided, and your only option is to switch to a different channel.
A streaming media service offers on-demand access to its library. Instead of sitting in front of the screen, waiting for the next episode of the TV show to start, you can just press play and continue watching. That convenience is what truly separates streaming services from live television, especially since you don’t have to suffer through the neverending commercial blocks.
How do streaming services work, then? The platforms hold all the necessary files on their servers. Once a user requests a piece of media, the service sends out a copy of the requested media by splitting it into packets and delivering it through the app.
The app then decodes the packets and reproduces the content in real-time. This is called encoding and is measured in bits per second (bps).
The Advantages of Streaming Services
We’ve already talked about how streaming has taken over more traditional methods of enjoying music and movies. It happened for a reason, of course, and there are certainly some advantages to streaming compared to purchasing, renting, or downloading media.
Convenience is the most significant factor in the rise of streaming media platforms. We live such fast lives that we don’t have that luxury of going downtown to a local Blockbuster, spending half an hour or more browsing the movies, then driving back home, and finally putting on that one movie or a TV show season we rented.
Remember the overdue fees on movie rentals or that whole hour drive back to the store to return the movie? Fun times.
Streaming cut all of that down to just a few clicks. You can make watchlists, set reminders to watch upcoming movies, or easily organize movie marathons. With streaming services came the concept of binge-watching, or binging, as it’s more commonly called - watching multiple episodes or even entire seasons of a show in one go.
It’s not just about the immediate access, either. Most of the time, streaming media apps have no ads. Unlike live television, shows and movies on Netflix and HBO Max are not riddled with ads, meaning they don’t waste your time.
Finally, you’re not tied to a single device with streaming services. Thanks to smartphones, tablets, and laptops, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world - you’ll always be able to access your favorite content.
Imagine having to carry your vinyls and record players around or haul your blu-ray collection to a summer vacation just to listen to some tunes or watch a movie or two.
The Disadvantages of Streaming
Streaming may be super convenient, but it’s not always the best idea. First of all, you don’t own any of the content on the service, especially not on the subscription-based platforms. Owners of those platforms regularly add and remove content as the licensing for each piece of media changes.
How does streaming work in that case? The platforms simply remove the show/movie/album. Just because you forgot to watch a show's final season doesn’t mean the platform owner will let you do so now - it may be gone forever.
Licensing has become a major issue for people that prefer streaming over purchasing media. This is especially true for services that provide movies and TV shows, as they tend to strike different deals for each territory, so you may need to fire up a VPN to access the region-locked content.
On top of that, companies like Disney launched their own services with exclusive content or even pulled their movies from competing platforms. Long gone are days when Netflix had it all - today, you’ll probably need five or more active subscriptions if you want to catch up on all the hottest shows.
It’s completely internet-based, too, which is part of the core definition of a streaming service. That means a fast internet connection is almost mandatory, as it has to be stable the whole time you’re streaming a piece of media.
Even if you want to rewatch something, you still need an internet connection, as the files aren’t stored locally. Additionally, streaming can be affected by buffering, laggy reproduction, and various glitches if something happens to the connection. Some people learned the hard way that their internet isn’t fast enough to stream movies, resulting in a terrible viewing experience.
Popular Streaming Services
Before we conclude our overview of streaming technology, we have to mention some of the services that are currently popular around the world.
Arguably the most well-known platform for streaming media, Netflix was one of the pioneers of this technology and is one of the pioneers that set the streaming service definition in stone. The platform offers many exclusive and popular shows like Stranger Things, The Witcher, and Dark but has been losing subscribers recently due to rising competition.
HBO’s streaming service has been the toughest Netflix competitor in recent years, launching some of the hottest shows and dropping big movies the day of their theatrical premiere. It’s home to Game of Thrones, DC, and the Cartoon Network, to name just a few things.
The House of Mouse launched its streaming service to huge success, which comes as little surprise considering the properties it now owns. This is the service to subscribe to if you want to watch both new and old Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney classics.
Amazon Prime Video
Subscribers to Amazon’s Prime can also watch tons of movies and TV shows without paying extra. Amazon offers many original shows like Invincible, The Expanse, and The Grand Tour.
Unlike previously mentioned services, YouTube is free to use, and you can even upload your own content for others to stream. YouTube has recently created several original shows and movies, but its main attraction is still user-generated content.
And there you have it. You now know the answer to the question “What is a video streaming service?” and understand how everything works. We’ve also explained all the advantages and disadvantages of streaming.
In short, it’s an exciting technology that’s very convenient and easy to use, so it’s no surprise that it’s so popular. It isn’t ideal, especially for collectors and people who prefer owning their music and movies, but the convenience is there, and it will only get better with time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Any service that provides real-time playback of any kind of multimedia content without the user having to download said content first is considered a streaming service.
To explain streaming services, we’ll use Netflix. It’s a platform you subscribe to, providing instant access to movies and TV shows. Once you press play on a movie or an episode of a TV show, the content starts playing immediately. You don’t even have to download an app for it: you can use any web browser, and nothing is saved to your device.
The most significant difference between TV and streaming is that each viewer chooses their content on streaming platforms instead of everyone watching the same programming at the same time.
A streaming service is an internet-based service that provides on-demand content relayed in real-time to the user. The data is encoded and decoded while it travels, but the files sent this way are not saved on the user’s device.
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A true tech and gaming savant, Ivan has been fascinated by the digital world since the early days of gaming on antiques such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore’s beloved Amiga. Whether you’re interested in the latest PC and console gaming news, antivirus software, or smartphone reviews, or simply want to learn about the newest geeky gadgets around, we at KT have you covered, and Ivan’s likely the one we’ll ask.