VOD Streaming: What It Is and How It Relates to OTT (Update)

YouTube brought vlogging to the masses in the early 2000s with VOD streaming. And just a couple years after that, Netflix changed the entertainment industry forever by introducing VOD movie delivery. Thanks to these streaming giants, video on demand (VOD) is what most people think of when they hear the word ‘streaming.’ But not all video content delivered online falls in the category of VOD.

So, what is VOD streaming verses similar models and why does the distinction matter?  


What Is VOD Streaming?

VOD describes click-to-play video content that’s available without the constraints of a broadcasting schedule. With VOD, convenience is key. Viewers can choose what they want to watch, where they want to watch it, and when. As such, VOD streaming is never live, nor does it require a physical copy of the content being viewed (as with DVDs or Blu-ray Disks).

Due to changing consumer behaviors prompted by the pandemic, VOD has taken over. DuneCruella, and countless other would-be theatrical releases went ‘direct to VOD’ as movie-goers avoided theaters. Not only were viewers able to skip a trip to the box office, but they were also able to stream these movies at their leisure rather than as dictated by static showtimes.

Today, VOD almost exclusively refers to content that’s distributed to viewers via streaming on internet-connected devices. However, downloaded files and recorded DVR content can also fall into this category.

We’ve talked a lot about Netflix already, and while they are a prime example of VOD streaming, VOD isn’t restricted to the media and entertainment industry. Doctors-in-training now rely on VOD streams of surgeries to further their education, while enterprises leverage on-demand streaming for everything from employee training to customer education.


VOD vs. OTT: What’s the Difference?

For anyone familiar with over-the-top (OTT) media delivery, you might be asking: What’s the difference between VOD and OTT? VOD is not synonymous with OTT — even if the platforms pictured above can be classified as both. Let’s define the two before getting into the details.

  • OTT broadcasting describes media content delivered over the internet rather than via traditional cable and satellite services. Top players in the OTT space include Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Sling. Internet radio and VoIP services like WhatsApp also count as OTT because they bypass traditional broadcasting alternatives.
  • VOD is any video content that starts when you push play — without requiring a physical DVD and player to initiate the process. Netflix, et al. fall in the category of VOD streaming, as do social media sites like YouTube and Facebook. Because the ‘V’ in VOD stands for ‘video’, pure audio content that’s provisioned similarly is instead described as audio on demand (AOD).

In many cases, VOD and OTT overlap, but not always. That’s because OTT describes the distribution model (video content delivered over the internet), whereas VOD describes the consumption model (video content that can be played back on demand). What’s more, OTT deals with consumer-facing media services, while VOD spans all industries and sectors. Finally, VOD is never live, while OTT can be.

Venn diagram comparing VOD to OTT.

Examples of Content Across the VOD to OTT Spectrum

Ahsoka: VOD and OTT

Any on-demand video content delivered via streaming services like Hulu, Disney+, or Amazon Prime would be an example of both VOD and OTT. Let’s take Ahsoka as our example here. It counts as VOD because viewers can access it on demand. Similarly, because Disney released this latest Star Wars installment on their Disney+ streaming service rather than on their cable channel, it’s also a prime example of OTT.

The 2022 World Cup (Streamed Live): OTT

OTT media delivery provided viewers across the world access to the 2022 World Cup. This type of content is clearly differentiated from VOD in that the live broadcasts were constrained by a broadcasting schedule. For that reason, most viewers watched the games at the time of broadcast rather than as a VOD recording.

That HR Training Video You Just Watched: VOD

Remember that security training video you saw reminding you that your last name followed by 123 is not a viable password? You likely viewed it over a closed network on your company’s intranet. This is not publicly facing OTT internet delivery. This is an example of video-on-demand delivered internally.


How Does VOD Streaming Work?

Remember that VOD refers to the consumption model and OTT to the distribution model. However, the two are intimately linked and in planning your VOD service, you’ll want to consider whether or not OTT delivery makes sense for you.

Traditional VOD Streaming Workflow

To gain a comprehensive understanding of how VOD streaming works, let’s begin by examining the process from a top-down perspective. Assuming you already have the desired content recorded for on-demand availability, the next step involves preparing the media for storage and distribution.

  • Encoding: Carefully select the appropriate video files.
  • Transcoding and Transmuxing: Upload and optimize the video to ensure smooth delivery.
  • Content Management: Organize the files in a user-friendly manner with effective metadata.
  • Distribution: Utilize a video CDN to efficiently deliver the content.
  • Playback: The online video player receives, decodes, and plays the video seamlessly.
  • Analytics: Valuable data is collected to optimize your workflow and improve efficiency.

VOD Streaming Without OTT

Did you spot the OTT in the above steps? Here’s a hint: your video CDN is a network of geographically dispersed servers that work together to increase the range and reliability of your video streams. While it is possible for a server network to be “internal” only, it’s unlikely that’s the case with your video CDN. In other words, you are using the internet to get your videos out to viewers.

Therefore, most VOD streaming workflows that don’t use the internet, are going to be targeting a smaller and less geographically diverse audience. This is most often seen in internal corporate use cases like the one described above. Alternatively, it could be a farther reaching VOD streaming platform but at the hands of a traditional broadcasting company.

Your simplified internal workflow might look more like this:

  • Encoding: Carefully select the appropriate video files.
  • Transcoding and Transmuxing: This will be less essential given the smaller size of your audience.
  • Content Management: Organize the files in a user-friendly manner with effective metadata.
  • Distribution: Utilize an internal server network for private distribution to those on the network.
  • Playback: The online video player receives, decodes, and plays the video seamlessly.
  • Analytics: Learn about audience size and behavior to help you manage internal VOD needs and utilization.

Monetization Models for VOD Streaming

Whether you’re redistributing a recorded event or releasing a movie directly to consumers, several strategies can be used to boost revenue using VOD. Let’s take a look at the most common models VOD offers for converting content into cash.

Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD)

SVOD stands for subscription video on demand, which includes any VOD service that provides unlimited access for a recurring fee.

Viewers elect to pay for subscription-based video due to the quality of content that these services deliver, the absence of commercial interruptions, and the ability to watch programming outside of any schedule.

Services like Netflix have championed the SVOD model, where content access is restricted to subscribers — thereby ensuring recurring business revenue regardless of how much VOD content is streamed.

Ad-Based Video on Demand (AVOD)

AVOD stands for ad-based video on demand, which looks the most like traditional TV broadcasting in that it uses commercials and other advertising techniques to generate revenue.

Ad-supported VOD is the dominant model across the Asia-Pacific region. And unlike with traditional TV — where the content and ads come packaged together — internet streaming opens opportunities for user-specific advertisements based on the demographics of an individual viewer.

With so many streaming services now available, experts predict that ad-supported video will make a comeback, forcing Netflix and other OTT platforms to rethink their subscription-based monetization model. Consumers will likely grow frustrated with having to pay for multiple streaming subscriptions and select both free and hybrid services that balance subscription- and ad-generated revenue.

Transaction Video on Demand (TVOD)

TVOD stands for transactional video on demand, which describes pay-per-view streaming content that viewers access on an ad-hoc basis. Basically, this is what you get when you log into Amazon to rent a movie for a set period of time. It differs from traditional pay-per-view, often called NVOD or near video on demand, in that you truly can start the experience whenever you want instead of at regular intervals.

While transactional video on demand is the least common, the COVID-19 pandemic changed this. A large percentage of the direct-to-VOD movie releases that made headlines at the peak of the health crisis were available to rent or buy as a one time purchase.

Find the best monetization model for your use case.


Live + VOD Streaming: A Winning Combination

Depending on your VOD streaming use case, you might benefit from a multi-tiered approach to video content creation and distribution. In other words, both live and VOD have their unique benefits, so why not use both?

Live vs. VOD Streaming

Because VOD content can be played whenever the viewer chooses, it’s never live. Rather, VOD describes prerecorded content that users can stream by request. But that’s not to say that live streams can’t become VOD. And when it comes to monetization, recording live streams for additional distribution opportunities is crucial.

We all know that live streaming delivers a level of urgency, authenticity, and engagement that can’t be replicated. However, recorded content gives users a measure of convenience that can’t be beat. The two needn’t be at odds, though. And that’s where live-to-VOD enters the picture.

Live-to-VOD Streaming

Live-to-VOD services enable companies to repurpose live content and expand their audience as soon as the event has ended by redistributing a recording of the originally aired content. What’s more, the resulting VOD assets put end users in control of their viewing experience — something we’ve all come to expect — with the ability to instantly, play, pause, and rewind the recording.

Benefits of Live-to-VOD Services:

  • Expands your audience. Broadcasters are able to reach additional viewers by offering recorded content from live events for playback later.
  • Puts viewers in control. VOD gives viewers the power to play, pause, and rewind content at their convenience by accessing on-demand content or using an nDVR feature for immediate time-shifted playback.
  • Monetizes on-demand content. Live-to-VOD capabilities can help boost ROI by enabling broadcasters to redistribute content using one of the monetization models below.

Look for a platform that lets you stream videos live and save the files for VOD delivery — thereby ensuring that you get the most out of your content. The ideal VOD platform provider will offer video infrastructure solutions with integrated live and video on demand (VOD) capabilities to provide the flexibility and content longevity that today’s businesses require. That way, you’re able to quickly turn your video streams into revenue streams. Of course, there’s even more to consider when choosing the right VOD platform upon which to build.


What to Look for in a VOD Platform

So what’s needed to get in on the VOD streaming craze?

Free social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube might be suitable for amateur video distribution, but you’ll want a professional streaming platform to implement VOD streaming for your business, whether internal or external.

Here’s what to look for when comparing the top streaming platforms out there for professional VOD delivery.

Adaptive Bitrate Streaming

If you’ve ever noticed the stream you’re watching adjust from a fuzzy picture to sharp focus in a matter of seconds, then you’re familiar with adaptive bitrate streaming (ABR). This functionality ensures the best video quality and viewer experience possible — no matter your end-user’s connection, software, or device. As such, ABR is essential when distributing high-quality VOD content, and something you’ll want to prioritize when selecting your streaming infrastructure provider.

Video Content Management System (CMS)

Without a simple way to organize, store, and share your VOD files with end users, it provides little value. A video content management system, or video CMS, is an application used to manage video assets. Like any good content management tool, a video CMS acts as a database that simplifies the organization and dissemination of digital assets. While video CMS software can be purchased as a standalone product, you’re better off finding a VOD platform that offers this capability as an integrated component.

Transcoding and Processing for Multi-Device Delivery

If every viewer had a 4K home theater plugged into high-speed internet, then delivering video content would be easy. But that’s not the case. Today’s viewers are out and about, accessing streams from a variety of devices. Different screens and varying internet speeds make video transcoding and processing essential. In addition to enabling adaptive bitrate streaming, these capabilities allow you to repackage content in non-standard container formats like AVI and WMV for reliable playback on any device. Choosing a VOD streaming platform like Wowza that offers protocol flexibility will ensure that your streams play back across a multitude of endpoints.

Scalable and Reliable Delivery

Getting the most out of your VOD assets starts with seamless video delivery across the globe. One of the best ways to achieve this is with a content delivery network (CDN). CDNs offer the fastest, most reliable way to get your content in front of numerous viewers anywhere in the world. What’s more, they provide an extra layer of reliability through redundancy. When streaming with Wowza, Wowza Video automatically leverages the Wowza CDN to accommodate global audiences of any size. Wowza Streaming Engine deployments can be combined with the Wowza CDN to deliver a highly integrated workflow at scale.

Security and Monetization

Security is essential to several of the monetization models detailed above. Why? Because unauthorized access to streaming content can compromise the revenue-boosting strategies of subscription and pay-per-view services. What’s more, when VOD assets are being used for non-entertainment purposes — such as for patient communications and diagnostics within a healthcare setting — protecting sensitive or private data is key. Authentication, encryption, and digital rights management (DRM) are all important security capabilities to look for in a VOD platform provider.

Flexible Infrastructure Deployment

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to deploying streaming infrastructure. Some organizations need to get up and running fast with a cloud-based deployment. For others, such as enterprise, government, and surveillance organizations tasked with keeping their VOD assets behind a firewall, a streaming server software like Wowza Streaming Engine might be a better fit. Regardless, you’ll want to find a VOD platform provider capable of accommodating your unique deployment needs.


If your primary broadcast is live, but you’d like the ability to instantly create VOD assets from your live streams, you’ll want to find a streaming platform that supports live-to-VOD streaming.

Video Analytics

Today’s viewers won’t take the time to explain why they turned off a VOD stream. As such, it’s a good idea to look for a streaming platform that provides insight into video performance via analytics. Video analytics allows broadcasters to monitor the success of their live and VOD streams, as well as proactively adapt should anything go wrong. This type of insight can also be used to identify opportunities for optimizing costs or the viewer experience.

Additional Functionality

Two other popular features when streaming VOD assets include:

Custom Solutions

Successful VOD delivery requires two things: reliable streaming infrastructure and a solutions-oriented partner. Whether you’re in need of strategic guidance, comprehensive functionality, or custom implementation, it’s a good idea to seek out providers that offer professional services to support your specific streaming needs.


How to Stream VOD With Wowza

With Wowza, content distributors are able to supplement traditional broadcasting services and open up new monetization opportunities by leveraging the right mix of VOD and live streaming. Adaptive bitrate streaming ensures the best quality possible for viewers on mobile devices, set-top boxes, and everything in between. Plus, our engineers stand ready to architect the best system possible for your ecosystem.

Regardless of the monetization model, we designed our software and services to make live and VOD streaming work for your business. Wowza powers reliable video delivery for market leaders in industries ranging from media to healthcare, and by offering a full-service platform and customized solutions, we work with each customer to ensure their success. Start now!


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