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TV Streaming 101 - Live TV Streaming vs. On-Demand Streaming

Updated: Sep 24, 2019

In the 3rd part of our TV Streaming 101 series, we'll dive into the difference between live TV streaming services and on-demand streaming services. Now that you know how to Get Started Streaming and what Streaming Devices may be the best fit for you, it's time to put that knowledge to use!

As explained in our How Streaming Works guide, streaming takes place through apps that are downloaded onto a streaming device. Both live TV streaming and on-demand streaming apps are generally pre-loaded or available to download to your device. Almost all live TV streaming and on-demand streaming apps require a monthly subscription, though most of them do not require an annual contract. Let's get started by looking at live TV streaming.

The number of live tv and on-demand streaming apps has increased exponentially since the rise of Netflix.

Live TV Streaming

Let's first clarify why this is called "live TV streaming" or "streaming live TV" instead of just "live streaming." Live streaming is really as simple broadcasting video or audio content to the Internet as it is happening in real time. Sites like Facebook Live, Twitch, Periscope and YouTube Live are all examples of live streaming. In contrast, streaming live TV involves watching a TV channel as it is broadcast according to that channel's schedule. Think of streaming live TV the same way you would a cable or satellite provider in terms of what's delivered. As the phrase indicates, you are streaming TV in real time through an internet connection, wi-fi or mobile data plan. So, if you watch re-runs of The Office at a certain time each night on Comedy Central through your cable or satellite provider, those same re-runs are airing at the same time on Comedy Central through a live TV streaming service. Said another way, watching live TV while streaming would be the exact same as watching live TV through a cable or satellite provider. It's the channels offered and other features that differentiate the two.

There are currently 8 major live TV streaming service providers, including Sling, AT&T TV NOW, fuboTV and Hulu + Live TV. Among those 8 major providers, there are 45+ plans to choose from. Some live TV streaming providers focus on a particular niche. For example, fuboTV is a sports-focused service that also provides a solid array of complementary channels in order to have more broad appeal. Other services like Philo focus on offering a variety of channels for a low monthly subscription charge in order to make live TV streaming the most affordable. Originally, streaming (especially for live TV) was primarily used as a way to replace cable or satellite TV providers due to their longer-term contract requirements or prices. Now, streaming live TV has taken on a life of its own that has resulted in a much wider variety of consumer choice. A great example of this is a service like AT&T TV NOW, which has 7 different packages ranging from $50 - $135 per month.

On top of the live TV channel packages, most live TV streaming service plans come with the option of add-ons. Add-ons can include more channels at for an additional charge that focus on things like international, sports, comedy or kids. They also include premium channel upgrades like HBO, Showtime, Cinemax & STARZ. Not every plan or service offers each add-on, but several are available to choose from with most of the services.

DVR is another feature of live TV streaming that helps it compare to cable or satellite packages. Much of the DVR availability for a live TV streaming service happens through the cloud and there are a few reasons for that. First, if you're streaming the same service on multiple devices, you want to have access to the shows you have on DVR on any of those devices. Second, many streaming devices don't allow for expandable storage, eliminating the option to DVR to a hard drive on a streaming device.

Some live TV streaming services also offer content on-demand. Watching TV on-demand basically means you want to watch a previously aired show or event, but you don't want to wait to have to watch it according to a TV channel's airing schedule. Again, think of cable or satellite packages as a good parallel to draw here in terms of what on-demand content consists of. This is where there starts to be a little confusion between on-demand streaming apps and live TV streaming services, since on-demand it is the same concept just through different providers.

On-Demand Streaming Apps

Apps that allow you to stream content on-demand have been around for quite awhile, but the number of choices you have are starting to increase. If you have used Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime Video, or know what they offer, then you're already familiar with some of the most popular on-demand streaming services. With these types of services, there are no TV schedules to follow or channels to worry about. All of the content is available immediately at the click of a button. Many of the on-demand streaming services are very reasonably priced because you're not paying to watch content in real time, you're waiting until after the show has aired on live TV to have access to it. Almost all of them follow a monthly subscription model. One point of differentiation that on-demand streaming services have really focused on is original content, which are shows or movies you can only watch through that service.

The recent surge in on-demand streaming apps has come from networks creating their own apps and standalone services. CBS All Access, ESPN +, and the upcoming Disney + app are all examples of a network creating a hybrid of their live content being available in real time combined with past TV episodes/series, movies, news and other content aired by that particular network (or family of networks). So for example, CBS All Access gives you access to programming like NFL on CBS, Big Brother and 48 Hours as they air in real time, but then you also are able to tap into a full library of past CBS network episodes, specials and original content. Similarly, on ESPN + you can watch Sportscenter or a live sporting event as it airs in real time, then have access to a library of original ESPN content like 30 for 30, SC Featured or E:60 to name just a few.

In addition to networks starting their own streaming services, there are also a wide variety of standalone streaming services that specialize in certain niches. For example, the Sundance Now app brings the Sundance brand to the small screen with a variety of documentaries, TV shows and movies. There are also services like Shudder, which specializes in horror movies or MOTV (My Outdoor TV) which features shows from Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel and World Fishing Network.

Deciding which live TV or on demand streaming apps are right for you can be a tough choice.

Decisions, Decisions

Now that you're familiar with streaming TV live and on-demand, finding out which route may best for you can still be a little tricky. That's why we've created our Streaming Services Guide, which will give you a rundown of all of the live TV streaming services as well as descriptions of a handful of on-demand streaming apps. In addition to this, our StreamMatch Tool is available as a free way to find out which live TV streaming service might be best for you based on the channels you currently watch. Whatever you choose, you'll soon find that streaming offers flexibility and accessibility to content you may not be used to getting with traditional cable or satellite packages. Happy streaming!

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