Media streaming is a technique for transferring data so that it can be processed as a steady and continuous stream of data. In other words instead of downloading a file to your computer with streaming you can watch/listen to the content in ‘real time’. The highly compressed data files use little bandwidth and will be temporarily stored in the computers buffer. ‘If there is an interruption… the audio will drop out or the screen will go blank… the PC stores a ’buffer’ of data that has already been received… If there is no more data in the buffer, it will usually stop and display a message – ’buffering’’ Jack Scholfield (2010).
There are some key factors that make streaming media such a useful method of delivering content from server to client. Some of these advantages are beginning to shape the way in which media is accessed over the internet and has allowed applications to converge over multiple platforms, e.g. Spotify for Mac, PC, tablet and smart phone.
Streaming can be used as a method to increase protection of digital rights by enforcing restricted distribution and viewing of particular content. One model example of this would be encryption and Digital Rights Management (DRM) ‘the content is posted on a streaming media server residing on the Internet while the link to view that content is then posted on a public web site. When a client clicks the link, they are required to perform an action such as provide personal information or purchase a license to view the content before the content is streamed to their PC.’ Mark D. Fears (2006)
Though the method above is only one single method of multiple that can be implemented over streaming media Mark D. Fears noted in figure 1.2 the idea of distribution over security ‘As you increase your security measure, you limit the ability to distribute your content to a broad audience. In some applications, not only is this acceptable but absolutely intended.’
There is a degree of control over streaming that allows it to distance its self from the idea of piracy or other negative spotlights that digital media is currently facing. It can be used in the context of services like ‘Pay per View’, ‘On Demand’ or subscription based services. ‘The third-party license provider can also limit the rights of the client based upon a criteria the content owner provides. For example, the license could have subscription rights. This would allow a client to purchase a license and be able to view that content multiple times with the license set to expire after a predetermined period of time has passed.’
As basically represented above the benefits in streaming for the distributors of digital content allows intellectual property to be shared while maintaining a degree of ownership, regulation and control over the data but there needs to be significant benefits to the consumers for these methods to be successful.
One of the advantages of streaming lead us to talk about the disadvantages of digital music ‘The biggest problem with storing digital music on your computer or external drive is the risk of the music library being corrupted, deleted, or mismanaged’ Bakari Chavanu (2011) streaming music sites allow you to access your music everywhere you have access to Wi-Fi or 3G, in some cases your music can be accessed offline resulting in an application which offers a better selection, security and value for money than the alternative ideas of a physical CD or digital music collection stored locally on your computers HDD.
Perhaps the best current example of a streaming music is Spotify ‘To put it simply ‘Spotify is a lot like having a version of Apple iTunes software wherever you have an Internet connection, giving you access to the tune of roughly 15 million tracks’ Nathan Chandler (2012)
How Spotify works: ‘
- User clicks a track to listen to.
- If it’s in the cache, Spotify just starts playing it from there.
- Otherwise, the Spotify client requests the first 15 seconds of the track from the Spotify servers so that playback can start as soon as possible.
- At the same time, the client starts looking for the track on the peer-to-peer network.
- The rest of the track is streamed, from a combination of multiple sources if available (cache, multiple peers, Spotify servers). The more popular a track is, the more likely it will be streamed using the p2p network instead of the Spotify servers.
- When the track has 30 seconds to go, the Spotify client begins searching the p2p network for the next track.
- When the track has 10 seconds to go, if it hasn’t found the next track on the network yet, the client starts pre-fetching it from the Spotify servers. ’
Other Web-based “music-discovery services,” or Internet radio sites like TagWorld, Last.fm and Pandora let you type in a song or artist you like and instantly finds other music that might fit your taste. With the Internet as their allie these sites are more like an infinite library of resource.
As represented above the benefits in streaming for the distribution of digital content is a new model that combines aspects of ‘Pay per View’, ‘On Demand’ and a subscription based service. With streaming music sites, your music is accessible to you everywhere you can get Wi-Fi access, and 3G access, and very soon 4G. With Webcasting you are able to stream anything live. The constraints of the past that made streaming unreliable and slow are now exceeding in speeding up and delivering more efficient data streams in which the quality of content is in some cases better than downloading.