Streaming 101: The Difference Between Live Streaming, Live Linear and Video-on-Demand

There is a whole lot of jargon and acronyms used in the media business, and perhaps even more so for those that create and sell software in that industry. Zixi focuses specifically on solving problems that often get lumped by the industry into a catchall phrase “video streaming.” That term doesn’t have an official, precise meaning necessarily, but metaphorically you have been watching “video streaming” for a very long time, if you have owned some sort of television in the last 50 years.
Video (and audio) that comes to your TV is “streamed” over-the-air which reaches an antenna, or “streamed” through the cable that is connected to your cable box or OTT box, or “streamed” through the satellite dish on your roof. All of these delivery methods are different versions of streaming or transmission paths.
Live streaming, Live linear streaming, and Video-on-Demand streaming, are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, though technically they are different methods of transmission that can require different kinds of software and equipment to carry out.
Live Streaming
Live Streaming is a term most often used to describe video coming from an event that is actually happening in real time. Watching an NFL football game, or a local news hit at 5pm, is an example of live streaming, no matter the platform TV, mobile device, or over-the-top (OTT) box brand. Streaming of live events is the use most people think of first when describing the technology of video streaming. Many people think of software applications like YouNow, MeerKat, TwitchTV that allow anyone to live streaming anything they are doing, and will even alert your Twitter for Facebook follows that you are “on the air” with your live stream. While Zixi can and does support “single camera events,” Zixi software is more often used by medium to large media companies for remote production workflows and final production live delivery to a multitude of hosts for distribution to tens of thousands to millions of people.

Live Linear Streaming
This type of streaming is something that most people have experienced because nearly all television programs seen “over the air” or from their cable or satellite network, are television shows that have been programmed to start and end at a pre-scheduled time. There is a difference between live linear streaming and Video-On-Demand streaming. Live linear streaming is typically used to denote those who program shows to air 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on a schedule.
Live linear streaming is a “passive” video viewing experience, meaning viewers don’t “search and click” (except to change the program). The experience of linear streaming is that video content comes to you and while you can change the channel, you don’t have to select an entire collection of videos to watch like you do with a playlist.
The difference in experience between live linear and VOD is the difference between “leaning forward” where you are making the selections and “leaning back” where programming is send your way. VOD distribution is dominated by media companies who are mostly long-time broadcast, cable, and satellite providers with deep libraries of content available for viewing.
Video on-Demand Streaming
Video on-Demand Streaming (VOD) has been the fast-growing segment of streaming applications. VOD content is often a media company’s entire back catalog of owned or licensed content. VOD has changed how video content is delivered to consumers, and it is interesting to note that VOD workflows often still rely heavily on traditional broadcast distribution workflows.
Sites like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime are good examples of Video on-Demand streaming (though Hulu channels also program live linear content in addition to VOD). These sites are more akin to the meaning of “lean forward” experiences because users have to “search and click” in their applications – content does not play automatically like happens when you turn on a traditional TV. Most of the content on these sites was originally viewed through traditional live linear broadcast outlets so they are often known for branded entertainment titles available within their walled gardens.
The distinction is that Video on-demand Streaming is not necessarily a direct competitor to broadcast streaming or live linear. Most Video on-Demand streaming sites stand on the shoulders of traditional live linear content and provide an ease of viewing and time shifting.
Who is Streaming Video Today?
Many consumers still think of YouTube when they think of the word streaming. Today there are many online VOD distributors, but it is still difficult for content creators to build an audience large enough on any one of these platforms to support ongoing production at scale. YouTube, Twitch, and a handful of others, have a few content creators with huge viewership numbers rivaling traditional media brands. However, even those content creators will likely want to expand their distribution options outside of the single platforms upon which they started. The number and variety of ways to distribute streamed content is interesting and challenging – and operating these businesses optimally is changing constantly. That is why Zixi works with over 30 OEM, service, and support partners to help content creators navigate the varied choices business owners have in distributing their content throughout the world.