What are streaming services?

Streaming services consist of digital platforms that enable the transmission and reception of audio and video over the internet — without downloading to a local medium like a hard drive. Media is delivered as it is being broadcast, replayed, viewed and heard.

Streaming services have a consumer and business context.

Consumer services are focused on information and entertainment. They include video subscription services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video and ad-supported services like Tubi and Hulu. Consumer services also include music and audio providers like Apple Music and Spotify. These services, and many others, are referred to as over-the-top or OTT services. They reach consumers directly without cable, broadcast or other traditional media distribution by providing content “on top” of internet service providers. Many OTT services incorporate devices like Roku and Fire TV Cube that enable viewers to watch streaming video on standard televisions.(1)

Business services are focused on what is termed enterprise video or enterprise video streaming, which encompasses on-demand video assets and live video broadcasting. Enterprise video streaming services enable organizations to create, manage, publish and distribute video to viewers both internally — as corporate communications — and externally — as marketing communications.

Streaming services can be accessed from and hosted in the cloud or used on premises. Cloud-based platforms are typically easier to use and less expensive because resources can be deployed on demand, rather than requiring a large initial investment.

Video conferencing services are different than streaming services. Video conferencing is a two-way approach that requires participants to be in a room with special conferencing equipment. In contrast, streaming video services are a one-to-many approach. Viewers can comment, answer polls and submit questions online, but they are not on camera and don’t verbally participate. Generally, video conferencing is best suited for conversation and video streaming for presentation.

Another area related to streaming services is streaming analytics. Streaming analytics transmits data — typically unstructured data from applications, social media, sensors and other time-sensitive sources — in real time for analysis.(2) Streaming services are linked to streaming analytics in that live streaming media can be one of the data sources for streaming analytics.

How do streaming services work?

Streaming services transmit media in the same basic way that most data and information is shared over the internet — in compressed digital packets. Streaming protocols such as HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and Real Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) offer standardized delivery methods. But there is more to streaming than transmission(3). Here are the major steps:

For the most part, streaming services do not include extensive video (or audio) production capabilities, however, there must be source media available to stream. The three basic ways of acquiring source media are to produce it, buy (license) it or curate it. YouTube, for example, curates video from its vast list of subscribers — 300 hours of it every minute.(4) Businesses producing their own video and audio can either broadcast it live or record, edit and finalize it for on-demand broadcasting.

Once the source content is created — either live or on demand — it needs to be encoded or converted into a digital format. Encoding can be achieved with both software and hardware. The term transcoding is often used interchangeably with encoding, but this is not entirely accurate. Transcoding usually refers to transforming one type of digital media to another. Streaming services platforms can support encoding with the the availability and use of professional production and encoding gear and resources.

Once the source content is digitized, it can be uploaded to a content delivery network (CDN). CDNs are networks of servers that are geographically distributed to support faster transmission and load times by being in close proximity to end users’ media players. The resource-intensive process of video streaming means most streaming services platforms use a CDN or multiple CDNs.

Once content is created it needs to be stored and managed so that broadcasters can retrieve and publish it, and viewers can watch it. Many streaming platforms include integrated content management systems or capabilities as part of the platform. Typically, metadata tags are associated with the content as with digital asset management systems to support workflow, discoverability and publishing.

This part of the streaming process is the most familiar. Media players include software applications like Windows Media Player, Adobe Flash Player, VLC Media Player and Media Monkey that run on smartphones, pads, laptops and desktops.(5) Roku streaming players, Amazon Fire TV Cube and Nvidia Shield (for gamers) receive wi-fi signals from internet hubs and routers to play media on televisions and other devices.

As organizations embrace video as a communications medium, they are seeking ways to analyze the results — and to instrument broadcasts with feedback-generating capabilities like polling, social media sharing and other tools. Analytics can tell organizations, virtually in real time, what, how and when viewers are watching to help optimize channels, programming and content.

Why are streaming services important?

A more specific question is: why is streaming video important to today’s enterprises? According to IBM, video is projected to make up as much as 82 percent of all internet traffic by 2020. Psychology Today points out that human brains process video 60,000 times faster than text. IT researchers Frost and Sullivan report that in 2018 enterprises were creating more video in one day than Hollywood was creating in a year. (6)

Enterprises are using streaming video to strengthen communications internally and externally — from inter-company town halls to global product launches — and to improve business outcomes.

For example, the productivity and efficiency of internal communications can be improved to reduce costs. A furniture manufacturer operating in over 100 countries slashed costs by half a million dollars by conducting monthly sales training using streaming video. A national company achieved six-figure annual savings by securely narrowcasting — broadcasting to an authorized or paying audience — its annual stakeholders meeting and avoiding travel costs.

Streaming video can also help increase revenue. Automaker Mazda drove 100 times more viewers to its product launch event compared to the prior year — without ads and with an average engagement of 16 minutes. Musical and audio equipment manufacturer Roland reached over 90,000 unique viewers by streaming a 24-hour hour international music festival and product launch.

Streaming video can contribute to multiple business goals such as improving employee productivity, accelerating time to market and advancing business agility. Done skillfully, it can communicate at a massive scale with compelling, enduring content. It can also help establish new revenue opportunities as live broadcasts and videos become assets that can be repackaged, sold, monetized (by supporting advertising) or licensed.

 Streaming services and streaming video can also offer insights and opportunities to enterprises through cognitive and analytics technologies:

  • Live event analysis to gauge audience reaction and sentiment by analyzing social media feeds.
  • Scene detection to segment video content into meaningful scenes, making it easier to manage and deliver targeted content.
  • Speech-to-text capabilities to turn spoken words into written text and help automate closed captioning and transcription.
  • Automated metadata tagging to enrich content and make it easier to spot trends, identify preferences and create customized viewing experiences.

Try IBM Cloud Video Streaming Manager free for 30 days

Key features of effective streaming services

Here are some high-level attributes and capabilities to look for in streaming services platforms.

Easy to use. Two easy-to-use checkpoints are that a platform is cloud-based and provides a consistent user interface. Cloud-based solutions make it easier and more cost-efficient to deploy content. A consistent interface can help minimize training; manage channels for both live and on-demand streaming; and reduce complexity and enhance adoption for broadcasters and viewers.

Scalable. Streaming content can reach an audience of millions, but to do so, solutions must be scalable. Optimally, the platform will support automatic scaling to avoid the need to estimate audience size and pay for unused resources. Another attribute to support scalability is a software-defined content delivery network. This approach involves receiving data about streaming performance and the ability to adjust and optimize the viewer experience. For example, detecting that a viewer is experiencing buffering and managing delivery between CDNs to resolve. IBM offers a monitoring console to track delivery performance.

Secure. Consider the following capabilities for securing streaming services:

  • Integrates with an existing corporate directory to authenticate viewers
  • Offers support through single sign-on (SSO), two-step email verification
  • Encrypts contents and protects streams — even outside the network
  • Enables domain restriction so only desired locations can view
  • Supports role and group-based access by video/channel for additional control
  • Reveals exactly who watched and when for auditing

Adaptive bit rate streaming. Cloud-based adaptive bit rate streaming, to be exact, is a complex term for a relatively simple, but critical, streaming feature. It’s a technique that detects the capacity of a playing or receiving device and adjusts the stream to help optimize connections across devices. (7)

Social media integration. Creating video (and audio) content for streaming is just as resource-intensive — if not more — as broadcasting it. Look for platforms that integrate with social media and other promotional channels to help maximize exposure.

AI and analytics. Artificial intelligence (AI) or cognitive capabilities can help automate important (often laborious) functions for streaming services platforms. Converting speech to text for generating transcriptions and automated captioning for example. They can also support functions like image recognition and visual scene detection to support content management and targeting. Natural language understanding and sentiment analysis help broadcasters understand how content is perceived and how to create, edit and distribute it going forward.

The Definitive Guide to Enterprise Video

See how video moves people to action and how cloud-based video platforms can make it easier to create, produce, manage and measure.

Case studies

Rainmaker Entertainment

Uploading and transferring massive video files is an important step in the video production process. See how Rainmaker Entertainment studios uses high-speed file transfer to accelerate production and global collaboration.

Herman Miller

Streaming services can deliver video as a powerful, motivating force for sales teams and other employees. See how furniture maker Herman Miller engages sellers with virtually secure, live video while saving half a million dollars annually.

Roland

Streaming video offers an as-if-you-are-there quality to product promotions and events. Roland used video as a key tool in a launch of new audio and musical instrument products that attracted 90,000 viewers.

Resources

Webinar: Getting Started with Enterprise Video Management

Learn how to build and manage a security-rich enterprise portal. Examine workflows for live and on-demand content and enhance videos with IBM Watson® AI.

Read the streaming video blog

Tips, techniques, tutorials, insights, user stories and more. The IBM streaming video blog is a resource-rich guide to streaming success.

Watch case studies

A collection of video case studies shows how streaming services are being used internally and externally to move businesses forward.

Streaming video glossary

Learn definitions of acronyms, technologies and techniques. Definitions are related to live streaming, broadcasting, video hosting and compression.

Managing video support

Troubleshooting tips — from editing video dates to generating captions to how auto record features work and more.

Featured solutions

Video Marketing Services and Solutions

See how companies are converting their audiences with advanced lead-generation techniques and the power of live and on-demand video.

Internal Video for Corporate Communications

See how organizations are using protected, cloud-based video streaming to build corporate culture, share sales tactics, and educate and connect employees.

Media & Entertainment Video Solutions

Learn how leading media and entertainment companies are increasing the value of video, simplifying workflows, and driving content loyalty with intelligent automation and distribution services.

IBM Aspera® Streaming for Video

Stream any bit rate video at scale over global IP networks with near zero latency, using commodity internet instead of expensive satellite and dedicated fiber.