Fact Checked

What is Web Streaming?

M.J. Brower
M.J. Brower

Web streaming is the process of delivering multimedia — usually audio or video — over the World Wide Web. Web streaming requires three things: a media source in a format that can be streamed; server software that can stream it; and a client, or player, that can play it on a user's computer or other device, such as a smart phone or an Internet radio receiver. The client is often a plug-in that runs in a web browser, but can also be a dedicated media player. Players include features like rewind, pause, and fast forward.

Streaming media does not need to be downloaded and stored on a local computer. In fact, most of the time it cannot be saved to a computer. As media is streamed, it is stored in a temporary storage space called a buffer so that it can be viewed or listened to before the entire file has loaded. Generally, a few seconds of media are buffered before the file begins to play. Interference or a slow Internet connection can cause playback to stall if new data can't be loaded into the buffer quickly enough.

Web streaming allows computer users to watch streaming media.
Web streaming allows computer users to watch streaming media.

Web streaming can be on-demand or live. With live streaming, the user hears or sees the media as it is being recorded. For example, when a lecture is streamed live, the audio and video are captured as data. The data is compressed and sent from a web server to the viewer's client, which decompresses it and presents it on the screen and through the speakers. The viewer can watch the lecture nearly in real time, even if it's taking place halfway around the world.

Streaming technologies allow audio, video and other files to be accessed via the web, with the help of advanced server technologies.
Streaming technologies allow audio, video and other files to be accessed via the web, with the help of advanced server technologies.

With on-demand web streaming, the media doesn't start to play until a web user requests it. Services such as YouTube and Vimeo provide on-demand web streaming: A user chooses a video to watch, and it plays in the user's media player. As with live streaming, the video is not saved to the user's hard drive, but stays on the web server. It can be played again and again, however, or revisited and played later.

Web streaming can help with video conferencing.
Web streaming can help with video conferencing.

Web streaming is most common with audio or video files, but stock quotes and other textual data can also be streamed. Streaming television and Internet radio use web streaming to deliver video and audio for entertainment, and it also has many uses in research, science, business, and education. Some of these uses include web conferencing, telemedicine, and distance education.

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Discussion Comments


One thing that bothers me about web streaming when it comes to television shows as the lack of availability outside of the host country. You can of course get around the regional filters they have in place, but for those who live abroad watching your favorite shows can be a real pain.

I think it would be great if individual television stations started selling memberships to their channels, so you could log in and watch. I would definitely buy something like a membership to a design channel or some of the real life drama channels. I really miss my background entertainment.


I think that web streaming is one of the best ideas they have come up with for sharing entertainment. As you can tell from my screen name I am a huge fan of Japanese animation and it used to be very difficult to get a variety of shows, especially at low prices.

Now though, with web streaming, there are some fantastic sites that offer any anime series you can imagine free to view. You of course have to sit through some commercials, but I think for the variety and quality of the shows being offered I don't mind enduring a few moments of viewing repeat advertisements.


I wanted to add that live web streaming can be done with Skype too. My husband recently went to China and he used this streaming web video in order to talk to us and show us some of the things he bought there.

I really was so much nicer than a simple phone call because we got to see each other and my kids got to interact with my husband as well. All you need is a web cam and you are all set. The calls don’t cost anything. My husband is going to set up something similar for my father in law so that he could talk to his daughter that lives in another state.

This type of technology can also really save companies a lot of money because many can resort to video conferencing in order to conduct meetings instead of having to pay the expense of flying people all over the place. Advances in technology like this are really great.


@BrickBack - That is a great idea. I enjoy web streaming music because there are so many songs that I absolutely love that I really can’t find them anywhere because they are more obscure and don’t get that much radio play. The other day I was listening to a Jermaine Jackson song that I hadn't heard in years.

I also listen to web streaming radio because I love talk radio, but I don’t always have the time to listen to some of my favorite talk radio hosts, so I subscribe to their programs and get to listen to the programs through web streaming whenever I want.

I wonder what affects web streaming software has had on radio and television. I know that more people are downloading web streaming music then buying CD’s in a music store. In fact, many music stores have closed because of this new trend. A lot of people may only want a single song or two from a CD and don't want to pay for the entire CD.

I know that the ratings have declined on regular television programming and I wonder if people are just catching the programs that they want when they get around to it rather than adhering to the network schedule, or are the ratings declining because we have so many more choices now than before.


@ZsaZsa56- That is a good point. It is true that streaming video on the web can be a little slower. I know that at my children’s school they use United Streaming by the Discovery Channel and it is great. They have a series of educational programming for children in kindergarten all the way to high school. They offer quizzes and tests for teachers and sample lesson plans along with various web streaming programs.

They have a home school subscription which can be a blessing when you are in a hotel and there is nothing for the children to watch. You can see a lot of public access television programs as well as documentaries,and even foreign language lessons.

The annual membership was about $150 a year, but it is worth it. There is so much on there that it can take a while to narrow down what you want your children to watch. I also use this streaming program when my children are learning complicated science concepts that they need a little more time to grasp.

Watching a short ten minute film on my computer really allows them a chance to understand. This really helped my daughter when she was studying the circulatory system.


Web streaming is a double edged sword. On the one hand it is a huge boost for consumers who no longer have to download content and can save themselves room on their hard drive as well as time from not having to wait for downloads.

The other side of the coin though is that web streaming takes up a lot of bandwidth which slows down internet connection speeds. I have heard that Netflix's watch instantly service takes up as much as 30% of the bandwidth on the internet at any given time. As more and more content becomes streaming this issue will grow.


There are a lot of different audio streaming sites out there too -- I use one called Soundcloud a lot. You can get proper albums, individual songs and mixes made by musicians and friends. There are other ones out there too -- I know my buddy swears by pandora, and of course you've got things like streaming radio broadcasts too.


@strawCake - Definitely check out streaming TV. After I had tinkered with it for a few months I got rid of my traditional TV entirely. The variety of TV shows available combined with the convenience of being able to watch them on demand makes web streaming so superior to broadcast TV.

I also love the lack of commercials. Sure there are still a few, but a broadcast TV show will have as many as 10 minutes worth of commercials in a 30 minute broadcast. The same show online might only have 2 minutes of ads. More show, less ads!


@JaneAir - I've never really considered watching TV shows online but I think I might start. I think I might enjoy skipping a few weeks and then having a marathon on a Saturday afternoon!

I do love youtube though! The only problem is that it's addictive. So many adorable animal videos, so little time!


Web TV streaming is really useful for someone like me who works in the evenings. Before websites like Hulu started streaming episodes of TV shows I used to pretty much never be able to follow any television. Since my schedule changes every week I was always missing episodes with no way to catch up!

With web streaming I can watch TV shows whenever I feel like it. Usually I'll wait a few weeks and then catch up on the last few episodes all in a row. I actually like it better this way than watching a show on TV every week.

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    • Web streaming allows computer users to watch streaming media.
      By: AntonioDiaz
      Web streaming allows computer users to watch streaming media.
    • Streaming technologies allow audio, video and other files to be accessed via the web, with the help of advanced server technologies.
      By: zothen
      Streaming technologies allow audio, video and other files to be accessed via the web, with the help of advanced server technologies.
    • Web streaming can help with video conferencing.
      By: carlosseller
      Web streaming can help with video conferencing.