Media streaming is essentially anything you watch or listen to without actually downloading it or buying a physical copy first. While Netflix gets a lot of attention in the streaming world these days, streaming-based media can include online videos, audio broadcasts, music, and an assortment of other content delivered this way. The goal with streaming is to present an easily accessible and convenient experience for anyone preferring to enjoy streaming. Below, we explore the finer points of streaming media.
What Is Streaming Media?
Streaming, in a nutshell, means any media that can be watched or listened to on a continuous basis from a platform or device designed for this purpose. If we’re talking about video, one example is a movie that’s continuously displayed until it’s over. Streaming service providers in one form or another allow access to this type of content. This can be done for a fee or free or charge, which we’ll get into later. What applies with how streaming content is accessible depends on the nature of what’s being streamed and how the provider or creator prefers to distribute such content.
So, How Does Streaming Work Exactly?
Streaming gives you access to video or audio content by breaking down the bits of data involved so it can be delivered to the target device or player. At one time, earlier forms of streaming content had to be completely downloaded first before it could be listened to or viewed, which meant longer wait periods. In today’s “need it now” world, this just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Fortunately, the increased availability of high-speed internet makes it much more practical today for larger bits and pieces of data to be accessed more efficiently. This is why streaming content is now commonly delivered in smaller data packets. These packets of data are transmitted for a few seconds at a time. Each packet of data is then stored on your device. Transmitting streaming data this way eliminates or minimizes delays and buffering so it can be viewed continuously.
A Brief History of Streaming Technology
Streaming isn’t exactly something new. It actually originated in early forms in the 1990s. Since the 2010s, streaming has spiked significantly in popularity. This is largely thanks to platforms like YouTube and Netflix and the widespread use of smartphones that do way more than just allow users to talk. The advent of other “smart” devices like televisions has also made streaming more accessible and appealing.
The debut of the MPEG-DASH standard is what really caused streaming to take off big time in 2012. Also, various platforms like YouTube have made the shift from Flash to HTML5. In fact, Adobe stopped supporting its Flash player in 2020 due to the broad adoption of newer standards like HTML5.
Streaming’s popularity has also been fueled by a growing number of streaming content providers. It’s hard to believe now, but at one point Netflix was known as the go-to source for physical DVDs you received in the mail and sent back. The platform was one of the first to shift to a (primarily) streaming service model, which is what Netflix is now known for among its core users. Even traditional media outlets like CBS, NBC, and HBO have streaming options available today.
Why Is Media Streaming Important?
Streaming is important and largely beneficial for many users because it’s a convenient way to view all types of content. Streaming became even more important as a source of entertainment and information during the early days of the pandemic. This is when many people were at home with more time on their hands. In this instance, streaming became a way for families and individuals to quickly access a broad range of content from the safety of their own homes.
- (Usually) no ads
- Freedom to watch/listen on any device
- The ability to start and stop and watch/listen at any pace or interval you prefer
- Saving hard drive space from not having to download content first
- Streaming service costs have increased in recent years
- Possibility of frustrating buffering
- Not having a wide range of content available from one single streaming source
What Are the Main Options with Streaming Media?
There are some different options with streaming media. It can be, for example, in the form of prepared content distributed at specific times and available for specific periods of time – like what happens with scripted TV shows and movies that debut on streaming platforms.
This is the kind of streaming content available from sources like Hulu, Disney+, and Amazon’s Prime Video. These same sources distribute older or curated content for streaming. Disney+, for example, does this with classic Disney movies and selections from its various franchises. Theatrical movies can be streamed this way as well.
Additional options with streaming include:
• Streaming audio: An increasingly common option with streaming audio is podcasting, which usually involves a specific personality or audio-based show. Music in all genres and forms can also be streamed as audio content. Streaming audio can also include shorter audio clips presented on a website.
• Live streaming: This is streaming that occurs as an event is happening. This can be a live-streamed sports event or real-time news. Live TV is an example of live streaming that’s becoming more common today with services like Sling TV and Pluto TV.
• Gaming: Live streaming with gaming is a worldwide phenomenon today that’s growing in leaps and bounds with each passing year. For millions of people, it’s an appealing way to play games and interact with other gamers that allows for multi-player interaction and a more expansive gaming experience.
• OTT streaming: Over-the-top (OTT) streaming is a way of referring to the act of accessing streaming content via some type of device. Possibilities for streaming devices include standard desktop PCs, laptops, smartphones, smart TVs, and game consoles.
Streaming content includes any type of data transmitted in smaller pieces so it doesn’t have to be downloaded. So, there are many more possibilities with streaming-based content or data.
What’s Needed for Streaming Media?
At a minimum, you’ll need an internet-connected device and enough bandwidth to receive the streaming data. How much speed or bandwidth you’ll need depends on what else you prefer to do while streaming. Netflix, for instance, states a 3 Mbps connection is needed for standard-quality streaming, and 5 Mbps is what’s recommended for HD streaming. But if you plan to do other activities online while also streaming, download speeds somewhere within the 100 Mbps range is what’s recommended.
It’s also common to need access to a streaming service provider if you prefer specific types of content available from certain providers. Some streaming service providers like Hulu include live TV options. However, there are free streaming services available as well, a list that includes Roku, Tubi, and Peacock. The caveat with free streaming services is many of them are ad-supported.
Are There Any Challenges or Obstacles with Streaming Today?
It’s possible to have interruptions with streaming. These pauses may be brief, but they can sometimes longer if you’re streaming during busier times of the day or when your ISP is a bit overloaded with users. It can also be helpful to have a modem with the ability to maintain a strong signal if you’re going wireless. Some streaming service subscribers also report frustrations over content limitations. This is a problem you may be able to overcome by taking advantage of initial free trial periods with various streaming providers before you sign up for a paid subscription.
There’s more streaming content being produced now than ever before. What this means for the average streaming consumer, viewer, or listener is it’s not difficult to find something appealing to enjoy at any given time. As long as you have a stable internet connection and enough bandwidth to stream in the way that works best for you, odds are good you’ll have a pleasant streaming experience.