Streaming services. Video On Demand. IPTV. Web TV. Whatever you want to call it, these are all forms of Internet TV.
Internet TV is pretty much what it sounds like – TV, on the internet. While internet TV has been around in some form or another almost since there has been an internet, advances in technology and shifts in the media landscape have caused it to explode over the last few years. Internet TV has far from reached its peak, though. And everyone from Hollywood to your 12-year-old nephew making skateboarding videos will tell you, internet TV is the future.
While there is a lot to say and a lot to know about internet TV, it can basically be broken down into three categories, though those categories are constantly overlapping and the lines between them are becoming progressively blurrier.
The term "video-on-demand," or VoD can meet a lot of different things to different people depending on the context. As a concept, the definition is simple. VoD refers to any video content that can be watched on a viewer's chosen schedule, instantaneously, with the click of a button. Contrast this with traditional broadcast or cable TV that runs on a set schedule. Technology like VCRs and then DVRs created a pseudo-on-demand experience by allowing people to "time-shift" their viewing, and record programming to watch at a later time, or even pause and rewind live TV. But time-shifting technologies still required a real-time broadcast to occur at some point. On-demand has no such requirement.
Most cable providers now offer on-demand programming from broadcast and cable channels (and even some original content) as part of their TV viewing packages. However, more commonly, on-demand viewing refers to viewing that occurs on the internet. This could be through a network’s own website, where they often will provide on-demand replays of their broadcast programming, and perhaps a mix of some original programming for their “digital channel.” It could also be through a service like Hulu or SeeSo.
You could also place a service like iTunes (or any of its competitors) into the on-demand category, with a key difference being that iTunes offers TV shows on a pay-per-view basis, charging, at the time of this writing, $1.99 - $2.99 per episode, or $19.99 - $29.99 for access to a show’s full season.
Dedicated streaming services have become an immensely popular way to consume TV and movies in recent years, with Netflix and Amazon's Prime Video being the clear leaders.
Streaming services offer on-demand content, but usually are one step removed from the broadcast TV ecosystem. They offer movies and full seasons of TV shows, but in terms of the timing and formatting of how and when they make that content available, it is more akin to buying a movie or a season of a TV show on DVD after its original air/release.
One of the key differences between dedicated streaming services and either network-supported on-demand or iTunes is pricing structure. Network-supported services rely largely on advertisements which play in-stream and are unable to be skipped by users, much like a traditional TV commercial. iTunes, as mentioned previously, is pay-per-view, so a user pays for each video individually and has either temporary or permanent access to it after downloading the file.
Most streaming services, on the other hand, charge a monthly subscription fee. In return, they offer all-you-can-watch, ad-free viewing of their entire content libraries. This kind of service can only exist because of advances in broadband and video compression technology which have allowed relatively large video files to be loaded on a user's computer in real-time as the video plays back. In this way, the user avoids having to wait for long downloads and also does not get the benefit/hassle (depending on your perspective) of owning and storing a file or piece of physical media like a DVD.
The third category of internet TV is original content. In the early days of internet TV, original video content on the web was mostly relegated to short-form, user-generated content on sites like YouTube. This content did not typically have high production values or strong viewership.
Now, everybody is getting in on the original content game. Technology and mass interest have caught up with original web content and it has become a huge business. When people talk about internet TV being the future, this is what they are talking about.
In part, that’s because the lines have become so blurred between original web content and traditional TV content. Internet TV show budgets and production values have gotten much better – Netflix and Amazon, for instance, are making shows that rival the quality of anything on traditional TV, and have even started winning Emmys. Shows have also been known to jump from a start as an internet show to a traditional TV show (such as HBO’s High Maintenance), or vice-versa (such as Hulu’s The Mindy Project).
There are also loads of sites creating original internet TV shows and distributing themselves and/or YouTube, whose original content business has become huge – it's not uncommon for a YouTube channel to turn a high school kid into an internet celebrity, basically overnight.
Internet TV is not only the future but the present. More and more businesses are jumping into internet TV and finding ways to create their own original content. The ability to stream the same video content to any computer, TV or smartphone on the planet has created an environment where we aren't just likely to see a revolution of video, we are already seeing that revolution reach industries and change the way people communicate, market, and distribute information.