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What does that mean? 4 key streaming acronyms defined

4 key streaming acronyms definedIn the technical world of online video streaming there are many confusing terms. Here’s a look at four acronyms that you’re likely to see being bandied about online. There’s no need for confusion as the explanation below will show.

VSP – Video Streaming Provider or Video Service Provider

Unfortunately, VSP is one of those terms that can mean different things depending on context. The most common usage is “video streaming provider”. VSPs offer the high bandwidth infrastructure to store and transmit your streaming media. There are private and public VSPs. YouTube is the most well-known public option for hosting your video. Companies like PlanetStream offer private hosting which usually offer more control over your content and user experiences.

Video Service Providers are generally companies like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon who stream subscription content to viewers. The term can also refer to standard cable and telecom companies who provide video programming.

CDN – Content Delivery Network

CDNs are networks with key locations around the world that enable low-latency delivery of all kinds of content. They work by creating points of presence (POPs) at key Internet exchanges in various locations. Their network then takes the content you want to stream, copies it, and it keeps the copy locally at that POP so when a viewer wants to watch your video, it loads quickly. If the video they wanted to watch wasn’t at the POP, they would have to wait while the requested video was found on a server somewhere on the Internet, and then wait for the video to be sent to them. Depending on the distance between the viewer and the server where the original video file is stored, they could be waiting many seconds. Internet users are very impatient and might even click away before the video loads.

CDNs can be used to accelerate any kind of online content including images and even whole websites. They are particularly useful though, for large bandwidth media like video streaming.

VOD – Video on Demand

Simply put, VOD refers to video content that can be viewed at any time the viewer decides to watch. The term includes on demand content from cable, satellite and online providers. In some definitions, VOD also implies that the content can be downloaded as well as viewed, but this isn’t strictly necessary. Videos from companies like Netflix are not downloaded. However, many cable companies are adding the ability to download movies so they can be watched offline. This is mainly driven by people trying to watch videos on their mobiles where available bandwidth may be limited (due to network connections or limited data plans). Even if viewers download the content it is still considered VOD, but downloading isn’t required as part of the definition.

Pay-Per-View content is also included in the term VOD, even though the content may be a live sports event that will be watched live.

OTT – Over-the-Top

This simple acronym belies the revolution that OTT brings. “Over-the-Top” refers to services streaming traditional video content (TV shows and movies) over the Internet through various other devices including computers, smart TVs, game consoles, and dedicated TV boxes like Roku. Netflix and Hulu fall into this category, but so do many other content providers that used to require a TV subscription. In the US companies like HBO and Showtime have always been sold as packages on cable TV plans. But now, those and other subscription services are being sold direct to consumers reaching many self-proclaimed “cord-cutters” who have cancelled their TV accounts.

Not all OTT content costs money though. There are ad supported versions that are similar to watching standard TV, only you get the content entirely through the Internet.

The direct-to-consumer business model of OTT is a significant change in how content is delivered. People have more choices of where to watch content which can potentially change how the industry will look in the future.

Hopefully you’re crystal clear on these definitions now. Are there any other terms or technical streaming concepts you want to see explained? Let me know in the comments.

Oliver Burt

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