Over-the-top (OTT) technology – or streaming videos directly over the Internet – 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 consume it on their own schedule.
OTT amplifies the power of media delivery by giving professional broadcasters powerful analytics tools and the unprecedented ability to interact with live audiences. Using these services, businesses and organizations can refine their offerings to match user needs faster (and more reliably) than ever before.
Over-the-top streaming and video on demand also represent a unique opportunity to reach a growing user segment becoming less interested in traditional media outlets.
Younger audiences are increasingly turning to digital marketplaces for news and entertainment – transforming OTT from an outsider into a mainstream consumer medium.
In today’s post, we will define OTT, describe what over-the-top broadcasting is used for, and explain why it matters for your brand. We will also cover some associated services of OTT like video on demand (VOD) and live streaming and describe the use of OTT Media Services. Wrapping up, we will visit some of the top video on demand and live stream hosting platforms that currently employ OTT technology.
We’ll be covering:
- What is OTT?
- How does over-the-top broadcasting work?
- What is OTT streaming?
- How does OTT streaming work?
- OTT vs. video on demand
- What is the difference between video on demand and live streaming?
- Over-the-top media services
- Popular VOD and live streaming OTT platforms
What is OTT?
To start, let’s define what OTT actually is. OTT is a broadcasting term applied to “over-the-top” services provided by video hosting providers. This phrase alludes to the fact that audiences receive content outside of the “closed” networks used by traditional cable and satellite TV providers.
In essence, OTT broadcasters 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 bought or leased 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. Most any internet-connected device – capable of receiving and displaying the signal sent to it – can be used for OTT access.
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 $158Bn by 2024, now is the time to join in.
How Does Over-the-Top Broadcasting Work?
Cable and satellite providers began offering video-on-demand content starting in the mid-90s. However, the Internet’s explosive growth – and the development of OTT – have unlocked entirely new paradigms for media delivery.
The first step in OTT broadcasting is to upload user content to an online video platform (OVP). These specialized vendors provide hosting, live streaming, and video-on-demand services on behalf of their clients.
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.
When users interface with a site’s digital content library, they choose the files they want, and the OTT streaming process begins. The hosting server automatically selects the best content format for the requesting device based on the OS (operating system), connection type, and available bandwidth.
Delivery selection is key in that OVPs typically include multiple versions of the same content but in different file sizes, compression types, and data formats.
Incorporating technology such as ABR (adaptive bitrate streaming) allows broadcasters to transmit the best possible signal to users at all times. 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 (but 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 public Internet, associated CDNs (content delivery networks), and a multitude of telecom and mobile device networks – all interconnected to reach end-users.
What is OTT Streaming?
Just like with terrestrial (traditional) broadcasting, the process of delivering content to users is referred to as streaming. In the context of OTT, streaming means sending content to subscribers directly over the public Internet. Which is the opposite of using proprietary cable or satellite networks to fulfill user requests.
Where over-the-top streaming excels is in removing many of the limitations associated with conventional broadcasting. As 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.
And don’t forget the expensive programming packages (with channels nobody wants).
OTT streaming simplifies and improves the content delivery process. As long as users have a compatible hardware device – and a stable internet connection – they can access the content they want. 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.
How Does OTT Streaming Work?
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 streaming content 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).
Additionally, subscribers are not locked into the hardware provided by cable and satellite providers. They can use most any compatible streaming device they want.
OTT vs Video on Demand (VOD)
There is confusion in the marketplace regarding the difference between VOD and OTT content. Although these technologies are related, they are different and can be used independently of one another. In the most basic sense, OTT is the medium (or channel) of content delivery between end-users and providers.
A significant advantage of OTT is that it is much cheaper than traditional broadcasting. Using the ready-made infrastructure of existing over-the-top providers helps brands quickly create reliable, high-quality deliverables for their audiences.
OTT is also the solution for streaming live events – such as sports, concerts, company meetings, or worship services. These real-time performances can be broadcast using OTT then added later on to video on demand libraries for future playback.
Over-the-top is less about what you provide to the audience, but how.
Video on Demand
Meanwhile, video on demand is classified not only as a service but the actual content you deliver as well. The most obvious characteristic of VOD is allowing users to choose and play content on their schedule. VOD offers a stark contrast to traditional programming in that audiences can watch content whenever and wherever they choose (vs 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. For live scenarios, OTT is the only solution. But again, events can easily be added to VOD libraries after the fact.
The main draw of video-on-demand is the flexibility and convenience it provides to audiences. VOD is also simpler from a technical standpoint as there is less equipment and overhead involved in broadcasting. Even smartphones can be used to create quality videos then uploaded to a hosting provider for distribution.
What Is the Difference Between Video on Demand and Live Streaming?
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 select from pre-recorded shows, movies, or content and gain immediate access. They can pause, rewind, or fast-forward content and add titles to their favorites list.
Video on demand is also a great option when events do not need to be broadcast live and can tolerate delays in the publishing schedule. Such buffers are advantageous as they give broadcasters time to review and edit their videos before releasing them to users. Thus, helping them to provide the best possible product for their audience.
Technically speaking, video on demand is a more efficient way to provide content. VOD transmits large chunks of data per transmission, which results in less back and forth communication between end-users and providers. Less traffic reduces buffering/lag time and makes for a smoother viewing experience.
On the other hand, live streaming is a unique way to create interactive, real-time experiences with audiences (in ways VOD simply cannot). Broadcasting events in real-time makes viewers feel special – because they’re part of something as it unfolds.
Using chat and other tools, they can also ask questions and provide feedback to hosts.
Live streaming is more difficult to implement as it requires specialized hardware and software to create a high-quality online video. You also need a video hosting provider with the right infrastructure to distribute the content. Research shows that quality is the most important aspect of live streaming. Thus, choosing the right setup is essential.
Live stream data must be broadcast in smaller chunks than with VOD. This results in more frequent transmissions and additional overhead to manage the process. Mainly, because the complexity of trying to reassemble larger data blocks efficiently would induce buffering and degrade the overall streaming experience.
One way to mitigate these types of problems is to work with an experienced streaming solutions provider who can handle much of the legwork for you.
Over-The-Top Media Services
An OTT media service refers to any provider who offers content as a standalone product. Although frequently applied to video on demand platforms, over the top 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.
Popular VOD and Live Streaming OTT Platforms
When it comes to choosing an OTT provider, there are many companies to select from. Although each provider offers different options, there are a few core elements you will want to consider for each. Price is important (of course), but you should also look at other factors such as monetization features, content delivery support, and API integrations.
Here are a few of the top brands in the OTT delivery space.
IBM Cloud Video
A trusted name in computing, IBM Cloud Video is based on the UStream platform they acquired a few years ago. Content is distributed via their proprietary CDN network and they support several monetization and advertising options. However, these features are reserved for enterprise-level plans only.
IBM does provide API access, but again, only on their most expensive packages. Pricing starts at $99 per month for SMB solutions and goes up from there.
JW Player Live
Known for their popular video player, JW Player recently moved into the live streaming market as well. JW includes advertising and monetization features but does not support pay-per-view or subscription services.
They offer a number of API interfaces but none that support live streaming. Content is delivered via their internal (non-CDN) network and pricing start at $5 per month. However, this basic plan does NOT include live streaming capability.
The Wowza platform has been around since 2007 and uses the highly-reliable Akamai CDN network for content delivery. API access is included but Wowza does not offer any monetization options. Third-party integrations are required if this is your goal.
Pricing starts at $49 for their basic package and increases with additional features.
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 (but only on enterprise-level plans).
Vimeo includes API access with their top-tier packages and pricing starts at $75 per month. However, for important features like custom branding and monetization controls, the cost rises to $999 per month.
The Dacast “streaming as a service” platform offers enterprise-grade features at an affordable price. Their OTT solution provides both live streaming and video on demand capabilities to broadcasters around the world.
Dacast uses the rock-solid top-tier CDNs (content delivery networks) for media distribution and supports both native and external monetization solutions. Their video API includes access to all service features and prices start at just $19 per month.
Awarded as the best SMB Business Platform of 2019, Dacast has been nominated in (and finished top 3) in multiple categories for six years in a row! 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.
With a focus on speed, convenience, and value, over the top streaming is the next evolution of content delivery. OTT 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 is simply the best vehicle for modern content delivery.
Are you looking to add OTT broadcasting to your brand? Dacast makes getting started easy. We offer a 30-day free trial (no credit card needed) to evaluate our online video platform for yourself. There is no obligation and you can cancel at any time.
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Thanks for reading and, as always, good luck with your broadcasts!