Over-the-top (OTT) technology is shifting the way broadcasters distribute content. By bypassing the constraints of traditional media networks, OTT platforms offer better access to the content audiences want and allow them to access at their leisure.
OTT broadcasting amplifies the power of media delivery by giving professional broadcasters the unprecedented ability to interact with live audiences. OTT video on demand also represents a unique opportunity to reach a growing user segment becoming less interested in traditional media outlets.
In this post, we are going to cover everything you need to know about OTT broadcasting. We will start by defining OTT and describing what OTT broadcasting is used for. From there, we’ll break down some different types of OTT broadcasting, including live streaming and VOD.
To give you some more insight on how broadcasters can use this technology, we will discuss what an OTT media delivery service is and compare a few of the top OTT media services on the market. To wrap things up, we will cover a few important OTT trends in 2021.
Before we dive in, let’s define what OTT is. Over-the-top, or OTT for short, is a media distribution method that delivers content outside of the “closed” networks used by traditional cable and satellite TV providers. In essence, OTT broadcasters use the internet to go over the top of long-standing media gatekeepers.
Rather than having to use proprietary networks or hardware, content can be streamed to any compatible device with a stable internet connection. This represents a stark contrast to the expensive equipment required by traditional telecom vendors.
OTT creates a technology-agnostic experience with content delivery available to a wide range of devices and operating systems. Almost any internet-connected device capable of receiving and displaying the signal sent to it can be used for OTT streaming.
Over-the-top platforms deliver content directly over the web without the hassle, frustrations, or high costs associated with traditional broadcasting. With the market for OTT services expected to reach over $158 billion by 2024, now is the time to join in.
Just like with traditional broadcasting, the process of delivering content to users is referred to as streaming.
Cable and satellite providers began offering video on demand (VOD) content in the mid-90s. However, content options were often limited and relatively expensive. The Internet’s explosive growth and the development of OTT have unlocked entirely new paradigms for media delivery.
Where OTT broadcasting excels is in removing many of the limitations associated with conventional broadcasting.
As we mentioned, with most telecom providers, users are locked into using the hardware and software supplied by the vendor. They are also limited to viewing programs based on the provider’s predetermined schedule. The setup of OTT technology allows broadcasters to override all of that.
OTT broadcasting simplifies and improves the content delivery process. As long as viewers have a compatible device and a stable internet connection, they can access the content regardless of location, time of day, or network provider. As consumers continue to embrace over-the-top streaming platforms, the lines between them and traditional broadcasting will eventually blur. Many users have already adopted a hybrid combination of the two with others utilizing OTT as their only source of programming and content.
The first step in OTT broadcasting is to upload user content to an online video platform (OVP). These specialized software options provide hosting for live streaming and video on demand (VOD) content.
OVPs manage the back-end communications required for content delivery to user devices. OTT compatible equipment includes everything from smart TVs and gaming consoles to streaming “boxes” and personal computers.
Viewers can browse a site’s digital content library and choose the files they want to view. That’s when the OTT broadcasting process begins. The hosting server automatically selects the best content format for the requesting device based on the viewer’s operating system, connection type, and available bandwidth.
The main difference between over-the-top video streaming and traditional web traffic is that video file sizes are very large. Thus, transferring them and providing a smooth playback experience for subscribers can be difficult. To overcome this, video files must be compressed and broken down into smaller chunks known as packets.
Streaming files are sent to users a packet at a time. As these packets are received by the requesting device, streaming protocols reassemble the data into a single video file presented to the user.
OTT broadcasting provides incredible flexibility and convenience to audiences. Videos can be delivered to thousands of different devices such as smart televisions, mobile devices, and streaming media boxes (like Apple TV, Google Chromecast, or Amazon Fire TV).
Multi-bitrate and adaptive bitrate streaming are key since they make it possible for OVPs to include multiple versions of the same content but in different file sizes, compression types, and data formats. This is what allows broadcasters to transmit the best possible signal to users at all times. How this works is complex algorithms measure individual network conditions and adjust streaming responses in real-time. These safeguards increase data reliability and reduce video buffering.
Users with slower connections receive smaller file sizes with lower resolutions. Faster links get HD formats with bigger download requirements. This type of auto-link adjustment optimizes performance and ensures a quality user experience.
Finally, rather than using proprietary infrastructures, content is delivered over the Internet through associated content delivery networks (CDNs) and a multitude of telecom and mobile device networks, all that are interconnected to reach end-users.
Now that you understand the mechanics of OTT broadcasting, let’s take a look at the two main types of OTT streaming: live and on-demand.
Video on demand, or VOD for short, is video content that viewers can access on their own time. VOD streaming offers a stark contrast to traditional TV programming in that audiences can watch content whenever and wherever they choose as opposed to viewing on the broadcaster’s schedule only.
It is worth mentioning that video on demand is for pre-recorded content only. There are no live streams or real-time performances involved.
The main benefit of video on demand is the flexibility and convenience it provides to viewers. VOD is also simpler from a broadcasting standpoint as there are less equipment and overhead involved. Even smartphones can be used to create quality videos then uploaded them to a hosting provider for distribution.
Live streaming is the act of broadcasting events as they play out in real-time. It is a unique way to create interactive experiences with audiences in ways that on-demand content simply cannot.
Broadcasting events in real-time makes viewers engage more because it helps them be part of something as it unfolds. Using chat and other tools, they can also ask questions and provide feedback to hosts.
Research shows that quality is the most important aspect of live streaming, so choosing the right setup is essential.
Live streaming is more difficult to implement as it requires specialized hardware and software to create a high-quality online video. You need an OVP that supports live streaming. Live stream data must be broadcast in smaller chunks than with VOD, which results in more frequent transmissions and additional overhead to manage the process. This is because the complexity of reassembling larger data blocks efficiently induces buffering and degrades the overall streaming experience.
This makes an encoder essential for this process.
The difference between VOD and live streaming is that VOD is pre-recorded and can be accessed on-demand and live streaming broadcasts events that are happening in real-time.
Video on demand is what most audiences are accustomed to with service providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu. Through apps or web browsers, users choose from pre-recorded shows, movies, or content and gain immediate access. They can pause, rewind, or fast-forward content. VOD is perfect for a large number of entertainment and e-learning formats.
Video on demand is also a great option when events do not need to be broadcast live and can be delayed in the publishing schedule. This leeway is advantageous as it gives broadcasters time to review and edit their videos before releasing them to users. This helps provide the best possible product for their audience.
The value of live streaming over VOD is that it is useful for hosting virtual events that benefit from real-time participation from the audience. In general, live video content is more engaging since it helps the viewers to feel more involved.
As we mentioned, online video platforms are essential OTT broadcasting providers. The products that these platforms sell are OTT media delivery services.
An OTT media service refers to any provider that offers content hosting and delivery as a standalone product. Although frequently applied to online video platforms, OTT media services can also refer to audio, messaging services, or internet-based phone solutions.
OTT media services provide greater flexibility than traditional communication outlets. With cable and satellite broadcasters, consumers are forced to purchase channel packages they do not need or want. Subscribers are also locked into long-term contracts with stiff penalties for early termination or cancelations.
With OTT, viewers choose the specific content they want to receive – at a fraction of the cost of using mainstream providers. Over-the-top media services bypass traditional gatekeepers and make watching video content simple and reliable.
When it comes to choosing an OTT video delivery provider, there are many platforms to choose from. Although each provider offers different options, there are a few core elements you will want to consider for each.
Price is important, but you should also look at other factors such as monetization support, content delivery quality, and API access.
That said, let’s take a look at a few of the top platforms in the OTT media delivery space.
The Dacast streaming platform offers enterprise-grade features at an affordable price. Our OTT solution provides support for hosting both live streaming and video on demand for broadcasters around the world.
Dacast partners with several top-tier CDNs for media distribution and supports both native and external monetization solutions. Their video API access makes the solution customizable with a plethora of integrations.
With 24/7 support, white-label branding, and dozens of five-star reviews, our OTT platform is ranked as one of the best in the business.
Dacast’s live streaming pricing plans begin with the Starter Plan, and include the following:
Dacast also has Custom plans for greater bandwidth needs.
Known for their historic video player, JW Player recently moved into the live streaming market as well. JW Player includes advertising monetization features but does not support pay-per-view or subscription services.
They offer API access for a customized broadcasting experience. Content is delivered via their internal network.
With JW Player, live streaming support begins at a free trial level. There are 3 pricing plan tiers:
The Wowza platform has been around since 2007 and uses the powerful Akamai CDN network for content delivery. API access is included, but Wowza does not offer any native monetization support. Third-party integrations are required if this is your goal.
Wowza offers several different packages. These are split into two main tiers: Streaming Cloud and Streaming Engine.
All of these Live Event plans include full brand control, multi-bitrate streaming, and HD and UHD streaming.
The Wowza Streaming Engine has its own pricing plans. These professional-grade streaming plans are billed annually and include:
Originally a video hosting provider, Vimeo bought Livestream in 2017 to expand its capabilities. Vimeo live hosts its own internal servers for content delivery and offers several different monetization options.
Livestream offers a dedicated solution for OTT video distribution called Vimeo OTT.
The Vimeo OTT page mentions a pay-as-you-go structure but does not provide information about additional costs and fees. Please contact them directly for more information.
A trusted name in technology, IBM Video Streaming is based on the UStream platform that IBM acquired a few years ago. Content is distributed via their proprietary CDN, and the platform supports several monetization methods, including advertising.
IBM Video Streaming does provide API access, but again, only on their most expensive packages.
IBM pricing plans range from $99 to $999 per month and include the following:
Before we wrap things up, let’s take a look at some interesting OTT trends in 2021. Not only is the industry booming, but the industry is becoming more creative and innovative.
Here are a few of the things that are influencing the OTT industry this year:
To learn more about these and other OTT trends, please check out our dedicated OTT trends post.
With a focus on speed, convenience, and value, OTT is the future of media delivery, especially video broadcasting. OTT technology helps organizations deliver the content audiences want without the scheduling, equipment, or network constraints of traditional broadcasting. An internet connection and compatible device are all that’s needed.
Whether it’s live streaming for real-time events or video on demand to catalog recorded performances, OTT broadcasting is simply the best vehicle for modern content delivery.
Are you looking to use OTT broadcasting for your brand? Dacast makes getting started easy. We offer a 30-day free trial to test our online video platform for yourself. There is no obligation and you can cancel at any time. No credit card is required to get started.
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Thanks for reading and, as always, good luck with your broadcasts!
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