An over-the-top (OTT) platform, also known as a streaming platform, is a platform that lets you stream content using the internet. OTT is an alternative to the cable, broadcast, and satellite companies that have traditionally had a monopoly over distribution of TV content. There are two types of OTT streaming services: video on demand and live TV.
A video on demand (VOD) streaming service is a service that provides content without the constraints of a broadcasting schedule. When you subscribe to a VOD service, what you are actually purchasing is the right to view content from your service provider’s video library. In addition, many VOD services let you download and view content offline. The biggest VOD service is Amazon Prime Video. It has more than 40,000 films and TV episodes that you can stream any time you want. Its content includes Amazon Original movies and shows as well as films and shows sourced from third parties.
A live TV streaming service is a service that lets you stream TV channels through the internet. In this respect, it does the same thing as your cable or satellite TV provider – but without having all those cords poking out the back of your television. Some live TV streaming providers let you choose packages to suit you, e.g. live news channels, entertainment channels, or sports channels. Other providers let you add channels one by one, ensuring you only pay for what you really want to watch. For example, Amazon Channels offers access to 100+ TV channels including HBO, Showtime, CBS All Access, and more.
The great thing about streaming is you can do it on any device that lets you watch video. To stream content to your phone, tablet, or laptop, just sign up to your favorite streaming provider and start watching through the provider’s app or a web browser.
To stream through your television, you will need either a smart TV (e.g. Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV), or a streaming device that connects your internet to your TV. Streaming devices include HDMI streaming sticks like Chromecast and Roku, as well as games consoles like PS4 and Xbox.
Like all good things these days, you can’t get anywhere without the internet. Before choosing a streaming service, ensure you install a broadband connection that meets the needs of the service you choose. Many of these streaming services rely heavily on a strong internet connection.
The minimum internet speed needed to stream TV can vary from platform to platform. Some services recommend internet download speeds of 5 Megabits per second (Mbps). This is a suitable speed for standard, on-demand HD streaming. However, if you’re part of a household that streams content on multiple devices, or if you’re viewing live TV, or if you want to stream in 4K or ultra HD, you will need a faster connection. For live TV, a minimum of 10-20 Mbps is usually necessary. For ultra HD streaming on multiple devices, your bandwidth should start at 25-30 Mbps.
When deciding on the right TV streaming service you’ll also need to think about how many different devices you want to use. If you live in a large household, you’ll want to avoid the inevitable arguments over who's watching what and ensure your service can be accessed by more than one device. For instance, Prime Video lets you stream content on up to three devices, without having to create separate profiles for each user, provided you're streaming three different titles.
The world of streaming is a world of unlimited possibilities. No matter your niche, you can find it with one or more of the top streaming platforms. Some of the platforms throw everything into the one package while others let you select content types one by one.
Streaming providers let you view content from the following categories, and more:
- Films: Stream new releases, classics, cult films, comedies, and more. Stream on demand from a video library like Prime Video; or stream movie channels like Showtime and Cinemax as part of a live TV streaming service like Amazon Channels.
- Entertainment: Stream TV series, documentaries, reality TV, and more. Stream on demand from a video library like Prime Video; or stream programs direct from channels like HBO, and Starz as part of a live TV streaming service like Amazon Channels.
- Family: Stream family-friendly and children’s films and TV shows. Stream on demand from a video library like Disney+; or stream family channels like Discovery and Nickelodeon from TV channels like Nickelodeon as part with the likes of Amazon Channels or Hulu.
- News: Stream live news channels like CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and more. Access as part of a live news streaming package from the likes of Hulu or FuboTV.
- Sports: Stream live sports channels like ESPN, Fox Sports, NBA TV, and more. Access as part of a live sports streaming package from the likes of Hulu or FuboTV.
In terms of billing, TV streaming services usually charge a monthly subscription fee for using their service. Some services offer customers the option of paying their annual subscription fee up front for a discounted rate. Paying yearly can save you money, but paying monthly offers more flexibility because you can opt out before the next monthly billing date. In addition to the subscription fee, many services offer paid add-ons such as additional channels or features. As with any service, consider the cost of add-ons before they start to pile up.
Once you’ve made the decision to subscribe to a TV streaming service, all that’s left to do is subscribe. Start by checking out the streaming services that offer free trials. Get to know the different streaming channels and shows before committing to a paid subscription. If it’s variety and a lengthy free trial that you’re after, sign up for an Amazon Prime subscription, throw some popcorn in the microwave and start streaming great content. If you’re looking for something specific – such as news, entertainment, sports, or family – then check out our other recommended services above.