Internet television refers to the distribution of television content via the Internet. Television used to be a very centralized, controlled medium, with networks choosing the type and scheduling of content. Some viewers grew to resent their inability to view their favorite shows in their own time. Eventually, various recording technologies, such as TiVo, arose to allow users to view content at a later time of their choosing. As the Internet and web-based content distribution became faster and more ubiquitous, viewers began to expect greater ease of access to content.
Internet TV thus went one step further and eliminated the need for a user to set up a recording device in advance, just to be able to watch a particular show. Instead, users can choose the television program that they want from a channel directory or program archive, and then proceed to directly watch it as it streams over the Internet to their computer. This ideally gives viewers unprecedented freedom, as they can watch whatever TV show they want, whenever they want. Of course, advertising being a necessary part of commercial television, ads and commercial shorts are still present.
Actual implementations of this distribution scheme vary depending on the provider. The important policies that need to be set include those dictating the size and accessibility of the archive – that is, which programs are going to be made available, and to whom? Hulu in the US and the BBC iPlayer in the UK are two providers which limit access to those within their respective countries, due to licensing considerations. They differ, however, in the scope of their archives – the iPlayer typically allows access to a show only up to thirty days after its airing, while Hulu generally allows access to much older content.
The mechanics of actually accessing the content is another important question. In the earlier days of internet TV, peer-to-peer (P2P) networks were preferred, as they are able to handle the transfer of large video files pretty well. In this model, viewers had to download video files completely before viewing. However, the costs of maintaining P2P servers and infrastructure that could keep up with growing demand proved to be too high. Hence, most providers switched to streaming, which delivers the content as it is viewed (YouTube, among other online video sites, is a good example of a streaming service).
Internet television is still a relatively new phenomenon, and hence is still rapidly evolving. Providers are still experimenting with different access and distribution schemes to balance ease of use and market appeal with licensing and other considerations. Other types of content, such as music and concert videos are becoming available on sites such as pinoy tambayan, along with TV content. It would probably be fair enough to say that Internet TV is a big part of the media revolution, as older forms of media struggle to adapt to the pervasive influence of the web and new media, and content delivery becomes more and more viewer-centric.
These are truly exciting times we live in, as access to information of all types grows easier and easier. And, hey, we don’t have to miss any of our favorite shows anymore just because we’re too busy with our wired, fast-paced, modern lives!