The Ultimate Guide to Streaming Media Online

Streaming is taking over and very soon—or when Apple decides to stream—streaming will be how all of us listen and discover media, either at home or on the go. Yes. People will still buy music. Yes. People will still go to the movies. It’s just that streaming is catching up with a new community of users that want video and audio instantly—although they might not know what they exactly want, they know at least by genre or artist.

This article—and the following series—will cover just about every video and music streaming service out there. We will cover start-ups and veterans, plus focus on what streaming services have the best content, usability and features—with an emphasis on overall cool-ness mixed with affordability.


What is Streaming?

Streaming is basically just playing music or video online from an online source—without downloading the file. Technologies like Adobe Flash, Apple Quicktime and Microsoft Windows Media use a player to play the streaming media on a users computer or mobile device. All streaming technologies use a compressed audio/video file. Common video compressions, or codecs, include:

  • H.264
  • MPEG-4
  • AAC
  • WMA
  • the very popular MP3

A Brief History of Streaming

Real Networks established the first streaming audio and video markets, and in 2000, 85% plus of streaming media was in the Real system. Then the Windows Media Player was introduced and Microsoft controlled the next era of streaming. Throughout this time, web site design was shifting from HTML to Flash, until Adobe acquired Macromedia in 2005, and its Flash-player dominated streaming playback for years.

And then the iPad came out, and out came HTML5, which uses a player’s browser to play back media. For HTML5 media to work the user must have a compatible browser. To date, HTML5 has been slow on its path to domination because Flash is still being used by so many. HTML5 is really more useful for iOS and mobile players, with desktop still using Flash for most applications. However, with Netflix going HTML5 recently, I think Flash and Microsoft Silverlight have definitely seen better days.

Video Streaming

With news like Hulu adding 4 million paid subscriptions in one year, video streaming is literally taking over— we will get more specific later on what streaming video services you need to try, what movies and TV shows you need to watch, but for now let’s break video streaming into:

  1. Content, content, content: these are the most popular, like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant, HBO GO, these are “content is king” video streaming sites where the content generates the views (instead of clicks).
  2. User-generated: these are video hosting (or uploading) sites like Vimeo, DailyMotion and Metacafe—users upload the videos and the views come from play lists, twitter-feeds, etc.
  3. Content-user generated: this is a combo of both and one platform dominates this group: YouTube—they have shows, sports, viral videos, everything, plus some 8-year old can literally upload a show themselves and make money from ads. YouTube has a very bright future.


Music Streaming

Here are the three groups of music streaming services:

  1. Internet radio: the beginning of streaming, Live365,, Pandora, Noon Pacific, Console.FM, Songza—where the service decides the content, but the user decides the genre, artist or similar artists.
  2. Music player: the future of streaming, Spotify, Rdio, Grooveshark—you choose the albums and singles you want to hear. These services tend to charge you monthly fees for their premium streaming services.
  3. User-generated: the songs are all uploaded by the user, SoundCloud, Whyd, Songdrop, This Is My Jam—the user is in charge of uploading from various sources (YouTube primarily).


Some services you’ll dislike, and some you’ll love, but never overlook “variety” when subscribing to music and video services. One will not do it all. It’s just impossible for one service to own “all” the music and video in the world. So make sure you try out a variety of services and base your judgment on library, accessibility, usability and overall cool-ness—and NOT on popularity (i.e. what your friends like on Facebook). And if you’re not streaming, what are you waiting for?