Live streaming media is the transmission over the Internet of video of an event as it happens. Streaming is a form of online video in which the site sends video footage to a user’s machine “on the fly” rather than as a complete file. It’s akin to the difference between watching a TV show as it airs and watching a DVD.
Live streaming media is different than on-demand streaming. With the latter, the content has previously been recorded. The user then accesses it at a time of their choice, though it is still streamed to their machine rather than downloaded as a complete file. YouTube is probably the best known on-demand streaming site.
The quality of live streaming media can be extremely variable. One factor affecting it is the technology the producers of the content have used to produce the streamed file. In some cases it may deliberately be kept to a small window size or low resolution.
The quality is also affected by the amount of bandwidth the website has purchased for transmitting the content. Generally, paid streams will be better quality. This is partly because paid customers are less tolerant of stuttering or low-resolution video. However, it’s also because a site charging for content will know exactly how many people will be watching and thus don’t run the risk of not having enough bandwidth.
There are two different ways of viewing live streaming media. In one system, the content is only available directly through the relevant website, often using software which is built into the site itself. In another system, viewers will be able to watch the video through their own standalone media player software. The website will either provide links to open the video in the software, or will provide a dedicated website address for the video itself which the user then types into their player.
Live Internet streaming is also used illegally to broadcast television footage, particularly of pay-per-view events. The quality of such streams is even more variable and, of course, it’s much more difficult, or even impossible, to complain or take legal action if you don’t get what you are promised. While some illegal streams involve direct connections to a cable TV feed of the relevant program, other work by simply pointing a webcam at a TV screen showing the footage.
With legitimate live Internet streaming, some sites may impose restrictions on which sites the content can be viewed in. This is usually down to broadcasting rights which cover the countries in which the site is licensed to transmit the footage. These restrictions are not popular with users who believe international boundaries should not apply to the Internet. Some of these users find ways to disguise their computer’s location so that they can watch the footage.