What's the Perfect Video Delivery Method for You?
A plethora of screens illustrating different video delivery methods
What's the Perfect Video Delivery Method for You?
If you're a content producer or advertiser, which video delivery method is right for you? There are several different ways to reach viewers today, from traditional broadcast television to internet-based streaming video and downloading. Each has pros and cons, which you need to understand before you make your choices.
Broadcast television can reach a large and diverse audience, even if that audience is diminishing
Linear pay TV, such as cable and satellite, offers a wider variety of programming but is suffering from subscription burnout
Streaming video services are rapidly growing and offer a platform for more narrowly targeted content
Download delivery lets viewers store a copy of a program on their devices to watch when they're on the move or don't have a good internet connection
Understanding Different Video Delivery Methods
There are four primary methods for delivering video content to consumers:
Broadcast (over-the-air, or OTA)
Linear pay TV (cable and satellite)
Streaming (over-the-top, or OTT)
Each video delivery method has strengths and weaknesses, and some are better than others for specific kinds of content. Let's examine each in more detail.
Different video delivery methods
Broadcast Video Delivery
The granddaddy of video delivery is terrestrial broadcast television. From the first black-and-white commercial television broadcasts in 1941 to today's high-definition digital broadcasts, over-the-air (OTA) delivery has been a mainstay of living rooms around the globe.
In most countries, terrestrial television is free, ad-supported TV. Viewers buy a television set and an antenna, then sit back to tune in to a limited number of local stations, all showing programming interspersed with commercials. From the 1950s through the early 1990s, the three major national broadcast networks ruled U.S. airwaves, supplemented in many markets by one or two independent stations showing syndicated content (and, beginning in 1969, the commercial-free Public Broadcasting System). Additional networks entered the fray in the 1990s, and with the shift from analog to digital broadcasting, local channels could offer up to a half-dozen subchannels showing a greater variety of programming.
Even with this growth in available channels, broadcast television still offers a much more limited content selection than other delivery methods. Fifteen or twenty local digital channels are no competition for the 100+ channels on cable and satellite and the unlimited amount of content streaming over the internet. This abundance makes space on OTA channels highly valuable, even as viewership shifts to other delivery methods.
Linear Pay TV
Linear pay TV goes back almost as far as free broadcast television. The first cable service launched in 1948; fifty years later, in 1998, more than 76 million U.S. households had cable subscriptions.
For several decades, cable television held a unique appeal to viewers. Initially, a way for rural viewers to receive distant broadcast stations, cable grew into a multi-channel distribution system offering more than 100 channels with a wide variety of programming. Cable systems also pioneered the transmission of pay-per-view on-demand programming, initially with live sporting events and later with theatrical movies and original programming.
In the early 1990s, similarly-programmed direct broadcast satellite television joined the cable industry. Satellite television was originally a way for rural viewers too remote for cable service to receive video content. However, the advent of small roof-mounted satellite dishes saw satellite TV make significant inroads into urban markets.
Cable and satellite providers offer subscription-based service, even though many of the channels they offer are themselves ad-supported. The rising prices of cable/satellite subscriptions over the years eventually became a factor in the rise of internet-based streaming video, which could deliver more select (and lower-priced) monthly services, in contrast to linear pay TV's one-size-fits-all multi-channel subscriptions.
Streaming Video Delivery
The newest video delivery method is streaming video over the internet, or what the industry calls over-the-top (OTT) TV. (It's called that because the video content is delivered "over the top" of a standard internet connection.) OTT lets providers offer a seemingly endless variety of programming streamed directly to viewers' connected devices—televisions (via smart TVs and streaming media players), computers, smartphones, and tablets. With dozens of OTT providers offering their services online, virtually any video content ever produced is available for streaming somewhere on the internet.
Along with relatively low-cost subscription rates (at least compared to cable and satellite), this plethora of streaming content has enticed many viewers to watch programming online. According to MRI-Simmons' Cord Evolution Study, more than half (51%) of viewers say streaming has replaced traditional TV. The Nielsen Company reports that 2022 was the first year streaming viewership surpassed broadcast and cable viewing, accounting for 35% of all viewing time (compared to 34.5% for cable and 22.1% for broadcast.)
Share of viewership across major delivery platforms.
OTT providers today operate with one of four different revenue models:
Transactional video on demand (TVOD), OTT's version of on-demand pay-per-view, where viewers buy or rent programming that they can then stream at their convenience
Subscription video on demand (SVOD), OTT's version of linear pay TV, where viewers pay a monthly subscription to get unlimited access to a selection of ad-free programming
Advertising-based video on demand (AVOD), OTT's version of commercial broadcast television, where streaming content is available for free but filled with advertising
Some OTT providers offer hybrid plans with a higher-priced ad-free tier and a lower-priced ad-supported tier. Other providers have separate SVOD and AVOD services. For example, Amazon provides the subscription-based Prime Video service and the free, ad-supported Freevee service.
Content providers like OTT delivery because there is an almost unlimited number of outlets to which they can sell their content. Advertisers increasingly support AVOD services, which offer a new way to target their customers.
Download Video Delivery
The final video delivery method is downloading. Downloading differs from streaming in that the user downloads an entire program to their device all at once rather than streaming it over the course of the program. With downloading, viewers have a copy of the program stored on their device of choice (typically mobile devices or computers) that they can then watch at their convenience—and, with mobile devices, wherever they may happen to be. Downloading is especially attractive for commuters and those who want to watch video programming without a reliable internet connection.
Download delivery has other advantages, as well. Technical issues often plague streaming video resulting from a lack of bandwidth or poor internet connection, such as slow start times, re-buffering, and inferior video and audio quality. Downloading a video in full before viewing eliminates these issues and provides a hassle-free, high-quality viewing experience.
What Is the Best Video Delivery Method for Your Content?
The video delivery method you choose depends on the type of viewer you want to reach and the content you offer.
If you want to reach a large national audience, broadcast television has the broadest reach
If your content has a narrow target, linear pay TV and streaming video have appeal with their highly segmented channels
If you want to quickly monetize your content, offering paid downloads through an online store (such as Apple's iTunes Store or Google Play) is the way to go
Of course, content providers and advertisers aren't limited to a single video delivery method. Many producers offer their content across multiple channels—broadcast TV and cable for first-run content, reruns on streaming services, and for sale via download.
In addition, many OTT services also offer streaming programming for download, for viewing on mobile devices, and where internet connections are less stable or completely unavailable. These methods provide multiple options for viewers—and increase the distribution of valuable content.