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  • Streaming Audio/Video

What is Streaming Hosting?

If you produce audio and video content, you may need a web host that supports streaming media. Not all of them do. In addition, you'll need a host that can cope with potential traffic spikes without downtime, and it'll need to support the type of content that you intend to publish or distribute.

Is your website the next YouTube? Pandora? Spotify? If your goal is to provide video or audio on demand to your site's users, you need streaming hosting. OK, so maybe your site's not quite that big yet. Regardless, if you plan to stream movies, music, or video or audio files of any kind, streaming hosting is what will keep that media running smoothly with fewer snags and interruptions.

Not all hosting plans can accommodate the resources it takes to stream audio or video files. Streaming hosting is specialized for media sharing. Imagine how frustrating it would be for your users to sit through a video that constantly stops and starts. Or for them to try to listen to music only to have their favorite songs cut off. How many of those visitors do you think would return to your site? Right.

Streaming hosting alleviates those kinds of issues. Some hosts that offer streaming plans are making them available via cloud hosting, which takes much of the burden of streaming off the local computer, speeding things up and increasing fidelity and reliability.

Many streaming audio/video hosting providers also offer managed hosting, removing much of the day-to-day management and maintenance from your plate, and you can be there's more to be done with a media-streaming site.

If what you plan to stream is anything along the lines of webinars, tutorials, or industry leader interviews, you may want to look for a host that archives your streaming media. This way, should anything happen to your site, you'll be able to recover that data, and continue to provide service to your customers and listeners.

Why Use Streaming?

Over the last decade, streaming sites have sprung up all over the web. YouTube is perhaps the most common, but there are thousands. Why would you want to bypass these established services and set up your own streaming service?

There are a few reasons:

  • Streaming gives you more control over the way content is distributed
  • You can host content for other users using a membership system, possibly charging a fee
  • Your content doesn't need to be associated with anyone else's brand or website
  • It's easier (though not hassle-free) to host content that other sites may not publish
  • You can create your own niche

Note that publishing your own content isn't going to protect you from the law. If a site like YouTube won't allow something because it's copyrighted (or controversial), your web host will probably have the same opinion. However, some hosts do have more relaxed rules about what's allowed to be streamed.

Features to Look For

When looking for hosting for a streaming site, you're looking for reliability, resources, storage and speed.

  • Reliability: If your goal is to provide streaming media, your server needs to be constantly online. If media disappears half way through streaming, it's going to frustrate people, and users are unlikely to revisit the site. 100 per cent uptime is not common in the web hosting industry, and when you find it, it's not cheap.
  • Resources: While a typical shared hosting plan may be marketed as 'unlimited', you'll run into problems fairly quickly, since your usage is going to be disproportionate and could cause issues for other users. You need sufficient bandwidth to handle massive amounts of data flowing from your host to your users, and the flexibility to cope with spikes in demand.
  • Storage: Where are all your media files going to be stored? Rather than opting for a massive disk space limit, you should consider a Content Delivery Network (CDN). Read on for more information.
  • Speed: There's nothing more frustrating than a video, or audio track, that continually stops and starts. Make sure you have speed on your side. Choose a server location close to your users, use a CDN and consider Solid State Drives (SSDs) if your host offers them.

A VPS is the minimum you should buy for a streaming site, although serious sites use dedicated servers so that they run a completely isolated environment. Cloud hosting is also worth considering, since your site will be served from multiple servers in a cluster, which should help it cope with peak demand and downtime.

Additionally, your server must specifically support the streaming technology that you want to use. Many hosts offer HTTP streaming on entry level or mid-cost hosting plans, but this limits you to older technologies like RealPlayer and Windows Media Player. For anything more complex, such as streaming Flash video, you'll need something like FFMpeg instead.

What About a CDN?

On our blog, we've referred to the CDN as a game-changing technology for hosting. Since web hosting customers are producing more content, the CDN is really coming into its own, and streaming media is one of its many specialities.

With a CDN, your streaming content is hosted in multiple locations (in your area, or around the world), so it's served more quickly no matter where the user is based. The technology is ideal for any website that needs very high uptime and good speeds, and is used by gaming giant Steam for this purpose.

If your hosting provider doesn't offer media streaming, you could use a third party CDN to bridge the gap. However, this means you have to deal with two providers just to publish your posts or content. Additionally, not all CDN providers will allow you to stream media, so check the specs carefully. Amazon S3 doesn't. You'll also nee to weigh up the pros and cons of push vs pull CDNs.

CDNs are very powerful, but they add a layer of complexity and a secondary cost. To conclude: keep it simple, if you can. Choose a host that offers a robust streaming service. If you have the perfect host but no streaming support, a CDN could be the answer.

Streaming media is the future, and that future is now. Provide video or audio to your audience and customers by using a reliable streaming host.

Streaming Audio/Video Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is streaming?

    Streaming is the continuous transmission of data over the internet in a way that allows it to be usable by the receiver as it is received. Most commonly, this is media data: audio and/or video.

  • What is the purpose of streaming over other modes of transmission?

    With streaming audio or video, the user can begin consuming the content as it arrives. This is a much better experience for a user than having to wait to download an entire media file before beginning to view or listen to it. Streaming also allows live events to be broadcast as they are occurring.

  • What is the difference between live streaming and on-demand streaming?

    With on-demand streaming, a file is stored on a server somewhere, and the viewer can access it at any time. In live-streaming, the media is broadcast via the stream as it is being created and is not (necessarily) being stored. With live streaming, a viewer probably cannot pause, rewind, or fast-forward through the broadcast.

  • What is the difference between streaming and progressive download?

    The user experience of streaming and progressive download are similar, but what is actually going on is a bit different. With progressive downloading, the user’s computer begins to download the media file to disk, and then starts playing it as soon as there is enough data to start playback. With streaming, the data isn’t (normally) being saved to disk but is being played as it is received.

  • Can streamed media be saved to disk?

    Yes, but this requires special software. It is not the “normal” way that streaming works. Some streaming media players (like VLC Player, for example) have built-in recording functionality.

  • What is buffering?

    If a computer started playing a media file as soon as it had enough to start playback, playback might be interrupted if the connection speed slows down or is interrupted. To avoid this interruption to the user experience, most streaming players wait until they have a bit of a “head start” on the incoming data before starting playback. This is called buffering — the few seconds (or more) of lead time is a buffer for the user’s viewing or listening experience.

  • What kind of technology does a user need to view a streaming video or listen to streaming audio?

    Most web browsers have streaming audio and video players built into them, or use something like Flash to accomplish the same goal. You can also use specific apps for consuming streaming content, like Windows Media Player. Some streaming content publishers will create apps for their own streams, which are just generic stream players packaged with a branded UI and information about the stream’s broadcasting source.

  • What is a codec?

    A codec is a specific format used for code and decoding streaming audio or video. There are many codec formats available, and not all players support all of them. If a player does not have a codec installed that matches the one used to create the audio or video stream, the stream is unusable by the player. As a broadcaster, it is preferable to use a codec that is widely available, supported but the widest number of players. As a consumer, it is best to have a player with the widest possible number of codecs, to be sure that any stream you receive can be played.

  • Why are there so many codec formats?

    There is no single industry standard, so a natural amount of variety has grown up in the market. For the most part, no one single codec is so superior that it has displaced all the others. Additionally, some people prefer using one or another codec because they have varying degrees of fidelity to the original signal, processing speed, or device interoperability.

  • Is streaming video or audio supported by all web hosting companies?

    No. In order to stream a media file, special software is needed on the server. Not all web hosts have this software installed already. Also, some hosts specifically prohibit streaming media because of the load it places on server resources.

  • Do I need streaming capability to display video and audio on my website?

    No. With most browsers, if you simply embed the audio or video into your web page, the file will start playing as it is downloaded. This is not streaming, but is rather a progressive download. However, the user experience is largely the same.

  • What are other considerations for streaming media content?

    Video and audio media files tend to be very large. If you are using a host with a limited amount of storage capacity, you may exceed it quickly if you are hosting a lot of videos or audio files. Similarly, video and audio use up a lot of bandwidth. This can become expensive.

  • My web host doesn’t support streaming. I don’t want to switch. What can I do?

    There are a number of streaming media hosting companies that allow you to host media content on its own. These work similarly to CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) and, in fact, many streaming media hosting companies are also CDNs. Using one of these services, you can keep your website and all non-streaming content at your current web host, and then offload any streaming content to the second hosting service.

  • Are there other alternatives for hosting media files?

    Unless your business model specifically involves you holding media files on your server, many people would advise against hosting your own videos or audio. You can use media sharing sites like YouTube, Vimeo, or Soundcloud to host your media, and link to it dynamically from your own website. This provides advantages like a greater reach of potential audience and automatic reformatting for different connection speeds and screen sizes.

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