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Streaming media is a form of multimedia, usually video or audio, from a data streaming service to an end user, that delivers media as a serial, steady stream, with little or no intermediate storage.

When an image, video, or program is downloaded to a device from the Internet, it is usually necessary for the end user to wait until that file is completely downloaded and processed before it can be opened. However, with streaming media, the end user can interact with the file as it is downloading. For example, when a video is being streamed, the end user can begin watching the movie without having to wait. Another difference between downloading a file and streaming a file is that the downloaded video files are stored on the end user's device, but, when a video is streamed, the files exist on the end user's device temporarily. Once the streaming application is closed, the data is cleared from the device.

Therefore, streaming is an immediate and continuous method of accessing content from the Internet. In recent years, streaming has become the most common method used for watching videos or listening to music.

The advantages of streaming are that streaming is immediate or nearly immediate. The content begins to play instantly, however large the file might be. Since streaming doesn't require storage space on the client's device, a large hard drive isn't necessary. Perhaps most significantly, most streaming applications allow clients to choose what they want to watch on their own time, without having to follow a cable or radio content schedule.

However, there are potential disadvantages to streaming over downloading a file. For one thing, an active Internet connection is required. Streaming can only be accomplished when the client's device is connected to the Internet, and large media files require higher Internet feeds, otherwise the client will be presented with buffering delays. Because streaming is a real-time activity, an Internet connection will be required every time the client wants to view the same movie, while a downloaded file only has to be downloaded once.

For reference, Streaming Media Software is covered in our Computers & Internet section.

Livestreaming is the real-time delivery of content that is simultaneously recorded and sent over the Internet, similar to the way in which live television broadcasts are delivered. Livestreaming requires a source media, such as a video camera, audio interface, and screen capture software, as well as an encoder to digitize the content, a media publisher, and a content delivery network to distribute and deliver the content.

Streaming media has significantly diminished the viability of the once popular DVD industry, causing the closure of several DVD rental companies, such as Blockbuster, while Netflix and Redbox have survived by focusing on streaming services, while continuing their DVD rental business.

Once one of the largest DVD rental companies, Netflix is now the largest (by subscribers) service offering streaming video on demand, followed by Amazon Prime Video, Disney+/ESPN+, Tencent Video, IQIYI, HBO Max/Discovery+, Youku, YouTube Premium, Paramount+/Showtime, Apple TV+, and Hulu, and several others with fewer than 30 million subscribers. Some of these have a worldwide reach, while others are available in only one country or multiple countries.

Free, ad-supported streaming video services with thirty million subscribers or more include Facebook Watch, Pluto TV, Roku Channel, Tubi, Crackle, Abema, and FilmRise.

Streaming audio on demand services mostly stream music, and are more difficult to gauge since some of them don't require a login for access, or may offer free access without a login, along with an optional premium subscription. Those with a stated number of active users above thirty million include Spotify, Gaana, SoundCloud, iHeartRadio, JioSaavn, TuneIn, Apple Music, Anghami, Pandora, QQ Music, Amazon Music, Music Choice, NetEase Cloud Music, YouTube Music, and Sirius XM.

Common live streaming packages include Facebook Watch, YouTube Live, Lifestreaming, Twitch, and Bigo Live.

Live streaming of video games became popular during the 2010s. This is an activity in which people broadcast themselves playing games to a live audience online. Originating largely on Twitch, the practice soon found its way to YouTube, Facebook, Steam, and others. Esports has also gained significance in livestream gaming.

The focus of this part of our web guide is largely on the providers of streaming media content, although online resources covering other aspects of streaming media may also be appropriate for this category.



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