Internet television

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Internet television (or online television) is the digital distribution of television content via the Internet. Internet television is a general term that covers the delivery of television shows and other video content over the Internet by video streaming technology, typically by major traditional television broadcasters. It does not describe a technology used to deliver content.

Web television is a similar term often used to characterize short programs or videos created by a wide variety of companies and individuals, or Internet Protocol television (IPTV) - an emerging Internet technology standard for use by television broadcasters. Some Internet television is known as catch-up TV.


Internet television allows the users to choose the content or the television show they want to watch from an archive of content or from a channel directory. The two forms of viewing Internet television are streaming the content directly to a media player or simply downloading the media to the user's computer. With the "TV on Demand" market growing, these on-demand websites or applications are essential for major television broadcasters. For example, the BBC iPlayer brings in users which stream more than one million videos per week, with one of the BBC's headline shows The Apprentice taking over three percent to five percent of the UK's Internet traffic due to people watching the first episode on the BBC iPlayer. Availability of online TV content continues to grow. As an example, in Canada as of May 2011 there were more than 600 TV shows available for free streaming, including several major titles like Survivor and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.[1]

Every night the use of on-demand television peaks at around 10 pm.[2] Most providers of the service provide several different formats and quality controls so that the service can be viewed on many different devices. Some services now offer a HD service alongside their SD, streaming is the same but offers the quality of HD to the device being used, as long as it is using a HD screen. During Peak times the BBC iPlayer transmits 12 GB (gigabytes) of information per second.[3] Over the course of a month the iPlayer sends 7 PB (petabytes) of information.

Before 2006, most catch-up services used peer-to-peer (P2P) networking, in which users downloaded an application and data would be shared between the users rather than the service provider giving the now more commonly used streaming method. Now most service providers have moved away from the P2P systems and are now using the streaming media. The old P2P service was selected because the existing infrastructure could not handle the bandwidth necessary for centralized streaming distribution. Some consumers didn't like their upload bandwidth being consumed by their video player, which partially motivated the rollout of centralized streaming distribution.[4]

Launching in March 2012 in New York City, Aereo streams network TV only to New York customers over the Internet. Broadcasters filed lawsuits against Aereo which Aereo captured broadcast signals and streaming the content to Aereo's customers without paying broadcasters. In mid-July 2012, a federal judge sided with the Aereo start-up. Aereo planned to expand it to every major metropolitan area by the end of 2013.[5]

Market competitors[edit]

Many providers of Internet television services exist including conventional television stations that have taken advantage of the Internet as a way to continue showing television shows after they have been broadcast often advertised as "on-demand" and "catch-up" services. Today, almost every major broadcaster around the world is operating an Internet television platform.[6] Examples include the BBC, which introduced the BBC iPlayer on 25 June 2008 as an extension to its "RadioPlayer" and already existing streamed video-clip content, and Channel 4 that launched 4oD ("4 on Demand") in November 2006 allowing users to watch recently shown content. Most Internet television services allow users to view content free of charge; however, some content is for a fee.


Controlling content on the Internet presents a challenge for most providers; to try to ensure that a user is allowed to view content such as content with age certificates, providers use methods such as parental controls that allows restrictions to be placed upon the use and access of certificated material. The BBC iPlayer makes use of a parental control system giving parents the option to "lock" content, meaning that a password would have to be used to access it. Flagging systems can be used to warn a user that content may be certified or that it is intended for viewing post-watershed. Honor systems are also used where users are asked for their dates of birth or age to verify if they are able to view certain content.


An archive is a collection of information and media much like a library or interactive-storage facility. It is a necessity for an on-demand media service to maintain archives so that users can watch content that has already been aired on standard-broadcast television. However, these archives can vary from a few weeks to months to years, depending on the curator and the type of content.

For example, the BBC iPlayer's shows are in general available for up to seven days after their original broadcast.[7] This so-called "seven-day catch-up" model seems to become an industry standard for Internet television services in many countries around the world.[8] However, some shows may only be available for shorter periods. Others, such as the BBC's Panorama, may be available for an extended period because of the show's documentary nature or its popularity.

In contrast, 4oD, Channel 4's on-demand service[9] offers many of its television shows that were originally aired years ago. An example of this is the comedy The IT Crowd where users can view the full series on the Internet player. The same is true for other hit Channel 4 comedies such as The Inbetweeners and Black Books.

The benefit of large archives, is that they bring in far more users who, in turn, watch more media, leading to a wider audience base and more advertising revenue. Large archives will also mean the user will spend more time on that website rather than a competitors, leading to starvation of demand for the competitors.

Having an extensive archive, however, can bring problems along with benefits. Large archives are expensive to maintain, server farms and mass storage is needed along with ample bandwidth to transmit it all. Vast archives can be hard to catalogue and sort so that it is accessible to users.

Broadcasting rights[edit]

Broadcasting rights vary from country to country and even within provinces of countries. These rights govern the distribution of copyrighted content and media and allow the sole distribution of that content at any one time.

An example of content only being aired in certain countries is BBC iPlayer. The BBC checks a user's IP address to make sure that only users located in the UK can stream content from the BBC. The BBC only allows free use of their product for users within the UK as those users have paid for a television license that funds part of the BBC. This IP address check is not foolproof as the user may be accessing the BBC website through a VPN or proxy server.

Broadcasting rights can also be restricted to allowing a broadcaster rights to distribute that content for a limited time. Channel 4's online service 4oD can only stream shows created in the US by companies such as HBO for thirty days after they are aired on one of the Channel 4 group channels. This is to boost DVD sales for the companies who produce that media.

Some companies pay very large amounts for broadcasting rights with sports and US sitcoms usually fetching the highest price from UK-based broadcasters.

Profits and costs[edit]

With the exception of Internet-connectivity costs many online-television channels or sites are free. These sites maintain this free-television policy through the use of video advertising, short commercials and banner advertisements may show up before a video is played. An example of this is on the catch-up website; in place of the advertisement breaks on normal television, a short thirty-second advertisement is played.

Technologies used for Internet television[edit]

The Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) consortium of industry companies (such as SES, Humax, Philips, and ANT Software) is currently promoting and establishing an open European standard (called HbbTV) for hybrid set-top boxes for the reception of broadcast and broadband digital television and multimedia applications with a single-user interface.[10]

Current providers of Internet television use various technologies to provide a service such as peer-to-peer (P2P) technologies, VoD systems, and live streaming. BBC iPlayer makes use of the Adobe Flash Player to provide streaming-video clips and other software provided by Adobe for its download service. CNBC, Bloomberg Television and Showtime use live-streaming services from BitGravity to stream live television to paid subscribers using a standard http protocol. DRM (digital rights management) software is also incorporated into many Internet television services. Sky Go has software that is provided by Microsoft to prevent content being copied. Internet television is also cross platform, the Sky Player service has been expanded to the Xbox 360 on October 27[when?] and to Windows Media Center and then to Windows 7 PCs on November 19[when?]. The BBC iPlayer is also available through Virgin Media's on-demand service and other platforms such as FetchTV and games consoles including the Wii and the PlayStation 3. Other Internet-television platforms include mobile platforms such as the iPhone and iPod Touch, Nokia N96, Sony Ericsson C905 and many other mobile devices.[11]

Samsung TV has also announced their plans to provide streaming options including 3D Video on Demand through their Explore 3D service.[12]

Stream quality[edit]

Stream quality refers to the quality of the image and audio transferred from the servers of the distributor to the user's home screen.

Higher-quality video such as video in high definition (720p+) requires higher bandwidth and faster connection speeds. The generally accepted kbit/s download rate needed to stream high-definition video that has been encoded with H.264 is 3500 kbit/s, whereas standard-definition television can range from 500 to 1500 kbit/s depending on the resolution on screen.

In the UK, the BBC iPlayer deals with the largest amount of traffic yet it offers HD content along with SD content. As more people get broadband connections which can deal with streaming HD video over the Internet, the BBC iPlayer has tried to keep up with demand and pace. However, as streaming HD video takes around 1.5 gb of data per hour of video the BBC has had to invest a lot of money collected from License Fee payers to implement this on such a large scale.[13]

For users which do not have the bandwidth to stream HD video or even high-SD video which requires 1500 kbit/s, the BBC iPlayer offers lower bitrate streams which in turn lead to lower video quality. This makes use of an adaptive bitrate stream so that if the user's bandwidth suddenly drops, iPlayer will lower its streaming rate to compensate.

This diagnostic tool offered on the BBC iPlayer site measures a user's streaming capabilities and bandwidth for free.[14]

Although competitors in the UK such as 4oD, ITV Player and Demand Five have not yet offered HD streaming, the technology to support it is fairly new and widespread HD streaming is not an impossibility. The availability of Channel 4 and Five content on YouTube is predicted to prove incredibly popular as series such as Skins, Green Wing, The X Factor and others become available in a simple, straightforward format on a website which already attracts millions of people every day.

Overview of platforms and availability[edit]

ServiceSupporting company/companiesRegional availabilityWebsite-basedWindows applicationMac applicationLinux applicationiOS applicationAndroid applicationConsole applicationTV set applicationSet Top Box applicationFree
WhereverTVWhereverTV, Al-Iraqiya, Al Jazeera - English, Al Maghribia, Al Mayadeen, Al Qurann Al Kareem TV, Al Sunnah Al Nabawiyah TV, Alalam News, Canal Algerie, ERT World, GO TelecomTV, iFilm-Arabic, Jordan TV, Mega Cosmos, 2M Maroc, Oman TV, Qatar TV,, RIK Sat, Saudi Arabia TV 1, Skai TV, Star International, Sudan TV, Syria Drama, Syria Satellite Channel, TV Tunisia 1, Yemen TVNorth America, South America, Europe, Australia, Worldwide/InternationalYesYesYesNoYesYesYesSamsung, Sony, Panasonic, Philips, VizioGoogle TV, AppleTV (via Airplay), Boxee, Roku, etc.No
BBC iPlayerBBCUKYesYesYesYesYesYes[15]Wii, PS3, Xbox 360Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, PhilipsVirgin Media On Demand, Freesat, RokuYes
TivibuArgelaTRYesYesYesYesArgela Android PlayerPendingNoneTtnet on DemandNo
Sky GoSkyUK & IrelandYesYesYesYesYesXbox 360No
ITV PlayerITVUKYesYesYesYesYesYesPS3Virgin Media On DemandYes
ABC iviewAustralian Broadcasting CorporationAustraliaYesiPadPS3, Xbox 360Samsung, SonyYes
4ODChannel 4UK & IrelandYesYesYesYesPS3, Xbox 360Virgin Media On DemandYes
HuluFOX, NBC Universal, ABC,...USYesYesYesYesYesPS3, XBOX360Samsung, VizioRokuYes
RTÉ PlayerRTÉIrelandYesYesPS3Yes
TG4 BeoTG4Ireland and Worldwide/InternationalYesYes
TV3 Catch UpTV3IrelandYesYesYes
Global VideoGlobalCanadaYesYesNo
Global VideoSBNTV1, The Sumlin Broadcasting Network, Classic Soul Channel.....USYesYesYesYesYesPS3, XBOX360Samsung, VizioYes
myTVOSN, Rotana Group, SNA Corp.....North America, Canada, South America, New Zealand, AustraliaNoNot YetNot YetNoYesYesNot YetSamsung Smart TV, LG Smart TV, Google TVWestern Digital, Boxee Box, Netgear NTV 300, Google TV devices, Samsung and Android tabletsNo

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'Streaming Guide' List of Online TV Shows in Canada, 05/16/2011 'Streaming Guide' List of Online TV Shows in Canada.
  2. ^ BBC iPlayer 'risks overloading the Internet', The Sunday Times, 04/10/2008 News article regarding BBC iPlayer Internet traffic.
  3. ^ BBC iPlayer – Stats and Facts, 12/05/2009 Brief blog style entry on BBC iPlayer traffic per month.
  4. ^ iPlayer uncovered: What powers the BBC's epic creation?, 08/05/2009 CNet interview with iPlayer boss Anthony Rose, mostly on iPlayer 3.0
  5. ^ "Aereo Threatens Broadcasters By Streaming Network TV Online". July 20, 2012. 
  6. ^ Internet television platforms around the world International TV Explorer
  7. ^ BBC iPlayer Help BBC iPlayer
  8. ^ International TV Explorer International Television Expert Group
  9. ^ "Channel 4's home page for Channel 4 content on demand". Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  10. ^ "New European Initiative Merges Television with the Power of the Internet" (Press release). HbbTV Consortium. August 27, 2009. 
  11. ^ "Info page detailing all platforms iPlayer works with". 2010-05-15. Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  12. ^ Samsung To Do 3D VOD Streaming, May 24, 2011
  13. ^ BBC iPlayer goes HD, adds higher quality streams, releases iPlayer Desktop out of Labs, BBC Internet Blog, 20/04/2009
  14. ^ "BBC web page which runs a diagnostic of Internet download speeds for streaming remotely". Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  15. ^ "BBC iPlayer — Apps op Android Market". Retrieved 2012-01-14. 

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