Why and how streaming/subscription TV and movie services work

Watching videos online used to be a hassle. Speed could be affected by a slow Internet connection like dial-up, which also influenced the rate at which data was being transferred across phone lines. Thankfully, streaming technology has seen many improvements. As more and more of the world becomes Internet-based, it’s no surprise that services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant are growing in popularity. Here’s a look at how streaming video and subscription services work.

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All online video content makes its way to a viewer’s home from a server. That computer network works with a plugin, a piece of software that decodes the information and results in the ability to watch the television show or movie the viewer has requested. Netflix relies on online file storage to handle their expanding catalog of streaming content, which includes both movies and television shows. Though the company has come under fire for its limited selection of new releases available instantly, not to mention its recent price hike, it is arguably the most accessible service, available through numerous services including game consoles like the X-Box.

Hulu

Not yet poised to offer consumers a wide range of movies, Hulu is better suited to viewers looking for television programming. The site offers a wide range of programming from major networks, like Fox and ABC, but does not currently offer shows from CBS or pay channels like HBO. Much of Hulu’s programming is available without having to subscribe to Hulu Plus. Often, the last five episodes of a show are available to watch, allowing viewers to catch up on or discover new shows. Those who take the ‘Plus plunge’ pay $8/month (the same as Netflix’s instant service) and gain access to a wide range of services, such as a backlog of episodes of shows that are no longer on the air, like “Lost.”

Amazon Instant Video

Amazon Instant Video is quite similar to Netflix, although its programming cannot be watched on game consoles or handheld devices. The service is included with the annual cost of Amazon Prime, a members-only plan that offers shoppers free or deeply-discounted shipping on their Amazon.com purchases. Though the service currently offers fewer titles than Netflix, Amazon is busy building their catalog so as to offer customers a selection of the newest releases. Customers also have the option to buy or rent the television shows and/or movies they watch, capitalizing on the growing popularity of streaming content and shoppers’ natural tendency towards impulse purchases.

With a growing demand for instant entertainment, similar services are making their debuts, all of them anxious to occupy the number-one slot when it comes to home entertainment. Look for subscriber services being rolled out by companies like Comcast and Dish Network and online movies offered by Blockbuster, as well as continued changes to older services like Netflix. Considering there are only so many ways you can package the same service and call it different, success will likely visit companies who offer their customers the newest releases possible, all while keeping their prices competitive.