Streaming media is multimedia content, such as video or audio, that is played as it is received from a server.
Multimedia content can be delivered in two ways over the Internet.
- As a downloadable file which must be completely downloaded prior to being played.
- As a stream of media that is played as it is received by a computer.
Streaming is typically the preferred method of delivery for consumers because they only have to wait a few seconds before the content begins to play. This is in contrast to downloaded content which much be completely downloaded before playback can begin – a process which may take several minutes or even hours for a large media file delivered over an average home Internet connection. In addition, for consumers who view a lot of streaming media, streaming offers the added benefit that it does not require a lot of storage space while downloaded media files can rapidly fill up an average size computer hard drive.
Streaming is also preferred over downloading by content creators and publishers because streaming media is not as easy to copy and redistribute without authorization – a form of copyright infringement known as media piracy.
Also See: How Streaming Media Works
Frequently Asked Questions
How is streaming different than downloading?
When a media file is downloaded the complete media file is transferred from the server to the computer that initiated the transfer. Once transferred, a user on the computer must locate the file and open it with a suitable application. When content is streamed, it is downloaded directly from the server to the application, where it begins playing while the transfer is still in process, and as soon as a bit of content has played it is deleted off of the computer system.
To get a better sense of how streaming media actually works take a look at this short animation.
What types of media can be streamed?
Any type of media can be streamed. A few of the most popular types of media, and some of the most popular services that host them, are:
- Music: Pandora, Spotify, Soundcloud.
- Video: YouTube, Vimeo, Vine.
- TV and Movies: Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video.
- Live video: Periscope, Meekat, and YouNow.
- Podcasts: iTunes, various smartphone applications.
Is it legal to record streaming media?
In many cases, the media being streamed is copyrighted, and recording it results in an illegal copy – a copyright violation that can be prosecuted. If you're thinking to yourself “that will never happen”, think again. In virtually all cases, recording streaming media is a violation of the terms of service extended by the website or application hosting the media. In a few rare cases, recording streaming media is perfectly fine.
If you'd like to record streaming media, and want to avoid running afoul of the law or the provider's terms of service, check with the website hosting the media before you do so.
Is streaming media safe?
While streaming media itself is considered to be safe, it is possible to download malware from the website hosting the media, especially if you are frequenting sites that deal in unauthorized streaming. In other words, as long as you stick to reputable sources, streaming media is perfectly safe.