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Before the Internet's arrival, customers bought their music, movies and TV shows in a physical format. From vinyl to Blu-ray discs, physical media was a necessary component of the entertainment cycle. When the Internet was born, entertainment went digital and a new industry of digital consumption was born.
Led by pioneers like iTunes that sold music at a fixed price through a digital shopfront, the industry has quickly developed to offer more flexible options for accessing entertainment.
Streaming services do away with the notion of content ownership and instead rely on a subscription model to access a large library of content for an affordable monthly price.
While there will always be a market for consumers wanting to own their content, subscription streaming services are growing in popularity around the world. Led by services like Netflix, Spotify and Apple Music, streaming subscription services are also beginning to expand into traditional broadcast realms like sports.
Just about everything these days. Netflix and Stan made the biggest splash in Australia with their on-demand TV show and movie libraries: the latest blockbusters, outstanding original productions, gripping documentaries and a Tonka truckload of kids content. However, where Netflix, Stan and Prime Video fall short is with live TV.
For content that you would typically watch live like news, sports and special events, you will still have to lean on free-to-air television or satellite Pay TV services, like Foxtel and Fetch. Thankfully, most of these services have their own dedicated streaming apps (you can compare On Demand, Pay TV and Catch-Up television services in the table above).
Lastly, there are services like iTunes, Google Play, PlayStation Movies and Microsoft Movies that operate as digital storefronts. These services offer vast libraries of TV shows and movies but instead of paying a subscription fee, you pay a one-off fee to "buy" or "rent" a movie.
Like a digital Blockbuster, these services allow time-limited access to their libraries for a small rental fee and lock off the content after a set period of time. They'll save you a million on late fees.
Many services combine streaming and downloading technology to deliver a fast and stable stream. For example, YouTube will buffer your content by downloading the video to your device before playing, only starting playback once there is enough content downloaded to ensure an uninterrupted video.
For more information on Pay Television and how it compares to On Demand, check out our hub for all things Foxtel and Fetch.
Because there is no content stored on your device, it means that you can take your entertainment on the go and perform abilities like pausing a movie on your TV and continuing to watch it on your phone or tablet during your commute to work. However, there is a small price for convenience as some streaming services can use up to 7GB per hour. Thankfully, some Australian mobile and broadband providers offer unmetered streaming for select services, so you don't risk going over your allotted data.
We've got the lowdown on providers that offer unmetered streaming and how to better manage your mobile data.
In 2016, Netflix began offering "Offline Viewing" which allows you to download select titles from its library to view without an Internet connection. Providers Stan, Amazon Prime Video and hayu soon followed suit.
Well, that really depends on what kind of devices you intend to stream on. Netflix offers 4K/UHD streaming on a huge selection of 4K televisions. Powerhouse video game consoles like PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X, Blu-ray players and streaming media devices like Fetch Mighty and Chromecast Ultra also allow for 4K streaming provided you have a 4K television/monitor to stream it through.
Slapping 4K on the box used to mean you'd be paying an arm and a leg for the latest and greatest television but over the last few years, 4K displays have become more affordable. If you're lucky, you might even be able to nab one in an ALDI sale.
Stan and Prime Video began offering 4K/UHD plans soon after Netflix but with all three services, you'll pay a premium price for the finest viewing experience. Stan charges $15.00 per month for its 4K/UHD tier, Netflix charges $17.99 per month. Prime Video has only the one-plan tier at $6.99 per month but offers a smaller library of titles for 4K viewing.
It's worth mentioning that paying extra for 4K with Netflix and Stan also allows you to stream on up to four devices simultaneously, so if you're in a large household or run some side-hustle streaming group, you'll reap the benefits of 4K, regardless.
Unlike streaming video, where providers differentiate themselves on content, streaming music services all boasts libraries in the millions of tracks, which leads to a lot of overlap. There is a growing tendency for artists to launch exclusively with a single service, and some artists have pulled their catalogue from certain services as well.
Other services, like Amazon Music Unlimited, launch with exclusive albums like the Aussie covers playlist "Made in Australia".
The biggest differentiator in the music space is in the platform itself. For example, Spotify has built out its service to connect with a massive range of devices through its Spotify Connect platform and has spent a lot of time developing technology to allow for curated playlists based on your listening habits.
On the other hand, Tidal plays the quality angle, offering a service where the music is encoded at a much higher quality than rival platforms.
A growing trend in music streaming is also the ability to share an account with family members, where multiple users can listen to music at the same time with individual accounts, all paid for under a single, discounted bill.
Music streaming can fundamentally be broken down into three different categories. There's the all-you-can-eat subscription model that offers access to an extensive song library for a set fee every month, and has risen to become one of the most popular methods of music streaming in recent years. There's also the digital radio model, that sees a radio-like service delivered through the Internet, and lacks the ability to create playlists or listen to albums. There's also the more traditional iTunes model of digitally purchasing songs and albums to own.
To help decide which type of service is best for you, visit our music streaming comparison for more information.
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Nick is the group publisher for tech, telco and utilities at Finder. An award-winning journalist with over 15 years' experience writing about technology, Nick has edited some of the country’s leading tech publications, including Gizmodo, TechRadar and T3 Magazine, as well as contributing to the likes of the Sydney Morning Herald, CNET, Lifehacker, news.com.au and many more. In 2016 he was awarded the Best Reviewer title at the 14th Annual IT Journalism Awards and has been a finalist for Best Reviewer, Best Consumer Technology Journalist and Best News Journalist on multiple occasions. Nick has a Bachelor of Media from Macquarie University and finds joy in solving problems with technology.
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