FreeCast, a leader in super aggregation, explores the pivotal moments that led to the streaming-era boom seen in recent years.

In the year 2021, it’s hard to imagine a world where streaming doesn’t exist. In fact, a yearly Leichtman Research Group study found that an estimated 78 percent of US households use at least one subscription video on demand (SVOD) service, a four percent increase from 2020. Unsurprisingly, that number is still above 50 percent when consumers were asked about being subscribed to multiple services.

But how did we get here?

The First Stream

Covid-19 has undoubtedly propelled the recent boom in streaming popularity. With more people at home and less things to do, why not turn to services like Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+ for binge-able entertainment? But to really get a grasp on the origin of streaming, we have to rewind a bit more. 

And while a majority of people might attribute Netflix with the birth of streaming, the truth is we have to go even further back than that. 

Believe it or not, ESPN held the first true livestreaming event in 1995. Although it was actually a radio broadcast that was presented to a few hundred listeners over the internet, this monumental feat in broadcasting revealed a true demand for accessible content that could be consumed anywhere via the world wide web.

And thus, the race was on between multiple industry giants, including Microsoft, to develop a technology that could capitalize on the rising popularity of the internet and transmit video while navigating the early web’s low bandwidth. Most notably came the birth of Flash Player, Windows Media Player, RealPlayer, and the like. 

What Is Streaming?

It’s important in these developmental stages to distinguish how streaming differentiates itself from downloading. When you stream something, the audio and video data is broken down into data packets that contain a small portion of the larger product and are stored locally in your browser. On the other hand, downloading requires you to store the entire file at its destination, your device’s hard drive, before you can access it. 

One of the earliest examples of modern streaming was the introduction of YouTube in 2005. Once people discovered readily available video content over the web, it started a domino effect for streaming success. 2006 saw the creation of Justin.tv, the streaming platform that would later become Twitch.tv, and in 2007, Netflix joined the race to make streaming mainstream.

To be fair, Netflix was founded way before 2007. Prior to this point, however, the platform was a failing venture that allowed subscribers to rent one DVD at a time through the mail at the price point of $20/month. And while founders Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph had big dreams of eventually distributing video content at the click of an online button, they were losing so much money that Hastings tried to sell the service to Blockbuster three times.

Good thing he was rejected, or we might not have the most popular SVOD service that we know and love today. 

There was a six year gap between the time Netflix first introduced on-demand streaming and the time that it began producing original content. Netflix’s initial forays into original shows, such as “Orange Is The New Black” and “House of Cards,” became revolutionary successes. The latter series became the first show to win a Primetime Emmy from an internet streaming service.

The Diversification of Streaming

During this six year gap, however, a lot happened in the streaming landscape: Hulu came online in 2008 as a joint corporate venture between the likes of AOL, Comcast, and Facebook, among others. Amazon Video on Demand also came about in 2008 as a rebrand of Amazon Unbox before it would eventually be rebranded under Amazon Prime’s umbrella as Prime Video. 

Then, well, things exploded. Accessibility to streaming services became a priority, so Smart TVs and gaming consoles alike began introducing apps specific to streaming services like Netflix. Plus, Roku introduced its first streaming receiver to give cord-cutters a way to experience TV without traditional cable.

It was around this time that a multitude of tech companies, including Microsoft, Apple, and Netflix, converged to improve the functionality of streaming. Prior to 2012, HTTP-based adaptive streaming was the go-to tactic for delivering content to consumers. But a new industry standard was being developed, known as MPEG-DASH. 

Both HTTP and MPEG-DASH used adaptive bitrate streaming due to two main advantages. The first was multi-rate video transcoding, where each video is compressed at varying bitrate and resolution combinations, and the second was segmentation, where these smaller chunks of video and audio are delivered independently of each other, allowing the video player to dynamically choose the quality of rendition best suited for current network fluctuations.

Aside from this change, another big proponent of the streaming revolution was the 2012 London Olympics. An increased demand for viewing live events without a time delay allowed Freecast to introduce an early aggregation solution, pooling all the events into one place and allowing viewers to watch the live broadcast of their choice. The company would go on to pioneer additional streaming aggregation services that eventually evolved into SelectTV.

Where Are We Now?

Jumping to 2015, there was a huge increase in popularity for live streams. A dedicated service for streaming from mobile devices, Periscope, launched in March of that year, with Facebook Live not too far behind, debuting to all of its users in January of 2016. 

Once 2017 hit, it seemed like every six months, a new streaming service was popping up… And it was. YouTube TV began in 2017 while AT&T and DirecTV continued to rebrand their struggling stream dream throughout 2018. Next, Apple TV+ and Disney+ both saw  2019 debuts, followed by Peacock and HBO Max in 2020 and Paramount+ in 2021. 

And that brings us up to speed, where the number of SVOD accounts is only expected to increase into 2022. It’s clear that traditional cable is on its way out and the age of streaming is now, so if you haven’t joined the revolution yet, there’s no better time to do so. 

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Sources:

GlobalData Thematic Research. (2020). “Internet TV: Timeline.” Verdict.

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Ruether, T. (2021). “History of Streaming Media [Infographic].” Wowza Media Systems.

The Complete History of Video. (2017). Popular Mechanics, 13–22.

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Zambelli, A. (2013). “A history of media streaming and the future of connected TV.” The Guardian.