Internet television

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Internet television (otherwise known as Internet TV, Catch-up TV or Online TV) is television service distributed via the Internet. It has become very popular at the end of the first decade of the 21st century due to services such as the BBC iPlayer (in and limited to the United Kingdom) and Hulu (limited to the United States); see List of Internet television providers.



Internet television allows its users to choose the program or the TV show they want to watch from an archive of programs or from a channel directory. The 2 forms of viewing Internet television are streaming the content directly to a media player or simply downloading the program/show onto the users computer. With the "TV on Demand" market growing, these on demand websites or applications are a must have for major televison broadcasters. For example the BBC's iPlayer brings in users which stream more than One Million videos per week, with one of the BBC's headline shows "The Apprentice" taking over 3 - 5% of the UK's internet traffic due to people watching the first episode on iPlayer.

Every night the use of On Demand TV peaks at around 10pm,[1] Most providers of the service provide several different formats and quality controls so that the service can be viewed on many different devices. Some services now offer a HD service along side their SD, streaming is the same but offers the quality of HD to the device being used, as long as it is using a HD screen. During Peak times the BBC's iPlayer sends out 12GB (Gigabytes) worth of information a second, around the same as sending out 20 DVDs content per second[2].Over the course of a month the iPlayer sends out 7 Petabytes of information which is the same as 11 Million Dvd's content. This wide use of on demand services is causing Internet Service Providers a great deal of issues.

Before 2006 any Catch-up services were mostly P2P (Peer to Peer), where users would download an application and data would be shared between the users rather than the service provider giving the now more commonly used steaming method. Now most service providers have moved away from the P2P idea and are now using the Streaming method. This is good for the service provider as in the old P2P system the distribution costs were high and the servers normaly couldn't handle the large amount of downloading and data transfer.[3]

Market competitors

Many providers of internet television services exist including conventional television stations that have taken advantage of the internet as way to continue showing programmes after they have been broadcast often advertised as "On Demand" and "Catch Up" services. Examples include the BBC, which introduced the BBC iPlayer on 25 June 2008 as an extentsion to its "RadioPlayer" and already existing streamed video clip content, and Channel 4 that launched 4oD ("4 on Demand") in November 2006 allowing users to watch recently shown content. Most internet television services allow users to view content free of charge however some content is charged for, Channel 4's internet television service employs a pay per-download system for some of its content. Other internet television providers include ITV player, Demand Five, Eurosport player and Sky Player.


Accessing internet television is a relatively simple process. Using an Internet Service Provider, something which is common in many homes in the developed world, the user simply enters their chosen website address. For example, or . If the user has no select preference of streaming service, the name of a chosen television programme can be inputted into a search engine followed by a phrase such as “online streaming” or “watch on the net”. Accessing television on the internet has never been so simple, due to this usability of streaming services has had to be improved to maintain the simplicity of the process. Upon selection of a programme and website, the user may have to wait a few seconds or minutes to allow their desired programme to stream. A process called buffering allows the programme to run in one smooth showing as opposed to stopping and starting to allow the programme to stream.


Controlling content on the internet presents a challenge for most providers to try and ensure that a user is allowed to view content such as programmes with age certificates providers use methods such as parental controls that allows restrictions to be placed upon the use and access of certificated material. The BBC iPlayer makes use of a parental control system giving parents the option to "lock" content meaning that a password would have to be used to access it. Flagging systems can be used to warn a user that content may be certified or that it may be post watershed for a programme. Honor systems are also used where users are asked for their date of birth or age to verify if they are able to view certain content.


An archive is a collection of information and media much like a library or interactive storage facility. It is a necessity for an on demand media service to maintain archives so that users can watch programmes that have already been aired on standard broadcast television. However these archives can vary from a few weeks to months to years, depending on the curator and what programme it is.

For example, BBC iPlayer offers most of its programmes for 30 days after their original air date on the BBC. However some special programmes such as Panorama are available for an extended period because it is a factual programme and is highly watched and so is worth the extra money needed to host it for longer.

In contrast 4OD channel 4's on demand service [4]offers many of its much older programmes as well that were originally aired years ago. An example of this is the comedy "The IT Crowd" where users can view the full series on the internet player. The same is true for other hit channel 4 comedies such as "The Inbetweeners" and "Black Books".

Having an extensive archive however can bring problems along with benefits. Large archives are expensive to maintain, server farms and mass storage is needed along with ample bandwidth to transmit it all. Vast archives can be hard to catalogue and sort so that it is accessable to users.

The benefits in most cases outweigh these problems. This is because large archives bring in far more users who in turn watch more media, leading to a wider audience base and more advertising revenue. Large archives will also mean the user will spend more time on that website rather than a competitors, leading to starvation of demand for the competitors.

Broadcasting rights

Broadcasting rights change from country to country and even within provinces of countries. These rights govern the distribution of copyrighted content and media and allow the sole distribution of that content at any one time.

An example of programmes only being aired in certain countries is BBC iPlayer. Users can only stream content from iPlayer from Britain because the BBC only allows free use of their product for users within Britain because those users pay a TV license to fund part of the BBC.

Broadcasting rights can also be restricted to allowing a broadcaster rights to distribute that content for a limited time. Channel 4’s online service 4OD can only stream shows created in the US by companies such as “HBO” for 30 days after they are aired on one of the Channel 4 group channels. This is to boost DVD sales for the companies who produce that media.

Some companies pay very large amounts for broadcasting rights with sports and US sitcoms usually fetching the highest price from UK based broadcasters.

Profits and costs

With the exception of Internet connectivity costs many online television channels or sites are free. These sites maintain this free TV policy through the use of advertising, short commercials and banner adverts may show up before a video is played. An example of this is on the catch up website; in place of the advert breaks on normal television a short 30 second advert is played. This short advertising time means that the user does not get fed up and money can be made off of advertising, to allow web designers to offer quality content which would otherwise cost. This is how online TV makes a profit.

Technologies used for Internet television

The Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) consortium of industry companies (such as SES Astra, Humax, Philips, and ANT Software)is currently promoting and establishing an open European standard (called HbbTV) for hybrid set-top boxes for the reception of broadcast and broadband digital TV and multimedia applications with a single user interface.[5]

Current providers of internet television use various technologies to provide a service such as Peer to Peer (P2P) technologies and VoD systems. BBC iPlayer makes use of Adobe Flash Player to provide streaming video clips and other software provided by Adobe for its download service. DRM (digital rights management) software is also incorporated into many internet television services Sky Player has software that is provided by Microsoft to prevent content being copied. Internet television is also cross platform, the Sky Player service has been expaned to the Xbox 360 on October 27th and to Windows Media Center and then to Windows 7 PC's on November 19th. BBC iPlayer is also available through Virgin Media's on demand service and other platforms such as FetchTV and games consoles including the Xbox 360, Wii and the PlayStation 3. Other platforms that internet television is available on include mobile platforms such as the iPhone and iPod Touch, Nokia N96, Sony Ericsson C905 and many other mobile devices. [6]

Website vs applications

The main problem with on demand video services that are applications on desktop computers is getting users to download them and register. It is far easier for a user to simply log onto a webpage without registering than to have to spend time registering and downloading often large programs.

However applications are more powerful in that they can manage the downloading of content far better and these programs can usually be watched offline for 30 days after downloading.

Stream quality

Stream quality refers to the quality of the image and audio transferred from the servers of the distributor to the home screen on a user.

Higher quality video such as video in high definition (720p+) requires higher bandwidth and faster connection speeds. The general accepted kbps download rate needed to stream high definition video that has been encoded with H.264 is 3500, where as standard definition TV can range from 500 to 1500 kbps depending on the resolution on screen.

In the UK BBC iPlayer deals with the largest amount of traffic yet it offers HD content along with SD content. As more people get internet connections which can deal with streaming HD video over the internet iPlayer has tried to keep up with demand and pace. However as streaming HD video takes around 1.5gb of data per hour of video it took a lot of investment by the BBC to implement this on such a large scale.[7]

For users which do not have the bandwidth to stream HD video or even high SD video which requires 1500kbps iPlayer offers lower bitrate streams which in turn leads to lower video quality. This makes use of an adaptive bitrate stream so that if the users bandwidth suddenly drops, iPlayer will lower it's streaming rate to compensate for this.

This diagnostic tool offered on the BBC iPlayer site measures a users streaming capabilities and bandwidth for free. [8]

Although competitors in the UK such as 4OD have not yet offered HD streaming the technology to support it is fairly new and widespread HD streaming is not an impossibility.

See also


  1. - 04/10/2008 News article regarding iPlayer internet traffic.
  2. - 12/05/2009 Brief blog style entry on iPlayer traffic per month.
  3.,39029471,49302215,00.htm - 08/05/2009 CNet interview with iPlayer boss Anthony Rose, mostly on iPlayer 3.0
  4. - Channel 4's home page for channel 4 programmes on demand.
  6. - Info page detailing all platforms iPlayer works with.
  7. - 20/04/2009 iPlayer 3.0 upgrading to streaming HD content.
  8. - BBC web page which runs a diagnostic of internet download speeds for streaming remotely.

External links

Template:Media player (application software)ar:التلفاز عبر الإنترنيت de:Internet-TV es:Televisión por Internet fr:Télévision par ADSL he:שידורי טלוויזיה באינטרנט hu:Internettelevízió id:Televisi internet nl:Internettelevisie ja:インターネットテレビ no:Nett-TV pl:Telewizja internetowa pt:Televisão via Internet ru:Веб-телевидение sv:Webb-TV zh:网络电视

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