OTT Means the Next Step Forward in Television
In the past, television always functioned in a linear fashion, and always via a middle man. Regardless of whether it was cable, satellite or IPTV, a provider would always make content available through its own infrastructure. This meant that with traditional television, for example, the cable provider did the installation and the user could only see what the cable TV was currently broadcasting. What that was exactly and when it could be received was and still is partly decided in classic top-down fashion. OTT – the abbreviation standing for over-the-top – is bringing about longer-term changes to this system.
Between Traditional TV and OTT: What Exactly is IPTV?
With the increasingly large bandwidths of Internet connections and the switch from ISDN to DSL standards, the established cable TV found a competitor in IPTV. Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) was the first step for telecommunications providers in expanding their TV offerings, from options such as the replay function, to time-shifted broadcast viewing, to increased broadcast offerings as well as transactional video on-demand (VOD). Yet even this new Internet television was only available via a middleman. In this way the largest IPTV providers, such as Hulu, YouTube TV and DirecTV Now only offer their internet-based television via proprietary devices such as set-top boxes and receivers.
OTT as the Logical Development of TV
A further development in IPTVs are the so-called OTT services. OTT means over-the-top and refers to content that is offered by means of an Internet connection, without the Internet provider itself having any influence or control over the content. This means OTT services are independent from infrastructure providers. Some of the most well-known OTT TV providers on the market are Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube and HBO Now. In order to be able to use streaming services, users only need to have an Internet connection, and, as is generally the rule, install the app for the respective OTT TV provider. Through the app you can then stream your preferred content at any time, any place and with any Internet-capable end device.
Whether its sports reports, films, series, live-streams of video games or video on-demand: Users have complete control over the TV and can customize the TV reception to their personal TV habits. Where many IPTV providers have a small, pre-filtered selection of video on-demand titles, over-the-top offers its users enormous libraries with thousands of content options that can be accessed at any time.
Reception and Use of OTT Services
OTT TV providers make content available to users via streaming. The databases for OTT TV providers such as Netflix and Amazon are located on central servers. Should a user decide to stream a specific film, then the data is transferred to them in IP packets. This will only be used by OTT as a transfer instrument. And because the internet provider ultimately only accepts the transfer of data packets, no legal liability arises for them with respect to the content being used.
So that most memory-intensive content can be streamed in HD quality, a stable and high-performance Internet connection is required between the broadcaster of the OTT content and the receiver. This is because if the data transfer rate is too low or if the DSL network is overloaded, it can result in reduced quality or video interruptions during the stream.
Because the displays for modern smartphones have an increasingly higher resolution in recent years, a not insignificant portion of OTT use now also occurs via smartphones.
Thanks to good network connections, however, the reception of OTT content is no longer an obstacle. Unlike with IPTV, users are no longer bound to a specific device as a reception medium. Each end device with an Internet connection can receive OTT app content. Whether it’s a tablet, laptop, notebook or computer, users have the choice of when and where they stream their favorite content.
Furthermore, the OTT provider apps can also be installed directly onto a smart TV. If the installation doesn’t enable the smart TV’s technical features, users can quite easily retrofit their devices with TV sticks. Amazon’s Fire TV stick, for example, can be connected to the television via a USB slot and allows users access to a series of pre-installed OTT apps.
A special feature concerning the reception and availability of most OTT content is the fact that the content delivery is tailored to each country. The Netflix library in the US, for example, has different content available to the library in France. Ultimately, the libraries for each country are unique. Because private TV channels, cable providers and operators of national pay TV sometimes purchase the broadcasting rights for specific films, series or sporting events for periods of up to several years, many OTT services are presently not allowed to broadcast such content in the countries in question. For this reason, OTT services read the user’s IP address. This indicates the country in which the user is located. Should the right of use for the corresponding film be restricted in the country in question, or should country-specific laws prevent their broadcast, the content will not be played for this user.
OTT now also contains high-quality provider-created content. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have long since become some of the most important film and series producers.
Although it’s true that Netflix is the most popular and probably also the most well-known OTT provider, other providers also have an interesting collection of content. Learn more in our article comparing providers, which discusses which ones are also worth a look.
In Which Direction is TV Development Going?
Thanks to OTT, the competition has become so strong that traditional TV channels have to fight against dwindling viewer numbers with linear TV offerings. How seriously the old channels and IPTV providers are taking the competition from OTT can be seen in their responses. In the US, for example, private media companies such as WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal now work with their own streaming platforms.
OTT has already changed the TV habits of many people. The fact that private television stations are also adapting their formatting and offerings to the changed habits of the Internet user shows in which direction Internet-based television will develop going forward. If and when cable, satellite and IPVO become obsolete, however, can be difficult to predict. However, it remains certain that the Internet will also bring about long-term changes to the television industry.