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What is OTT?

OTT stands for “over the top” and is an umbrella term for streaming services or content that deliver content to viewers over the Internet, bypassing any traditional cable, satellite or terrestrial broadcasting methods.

  • In general, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Sling and other similar services are considered OTT services.
  • OTT can also be distributed via the Internet onto social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as both taped and live video.
  • Content shown on OTT services can be exclusive to it or purchased from other production companies (for example, Netflix’s “Stranger Things” was originally exclusive to its streaming service — while the company also carries “Friends” — which originally aired on NBC).
  • Note that while many OTT services can and are frequently viewed on computers, laptops, tablets and mobile devices, OTT can still be viewed on televisions.
  • However, viewing on a television requires either a “smart TV” that can connect to the Internet or a third party device such as Apple TV, Roku or Amazon Fire TV — rather than a cable or satellite link or free over the air signal.
  • There are also OTT networks that either exclusively or primarily distribute content over the Internet via streaming — such as Newsy and Cheddar.
  • Many of the players in the OTT space are startups or independent content producers.
  • However, traditional media companies have also entered the OTT arena.
  • For example, CBS All Access, CBSN, ABC News Live, CNN Go, HBO Now and HBO Go are all OTT-style streaming services provided by prominent names in broadcasting.
  • In addition, cable and satellite providers often offer a streaming component as a sort of “add on” to their traditional TV offerings that could be considered OTT from a technical standpoint, even though the content remains mostly identical to what viewers see via traditional services.
  • The name OTT is partially derived from the acronym OTA, which stands for “over the air” and refers to the “old” way of grabbing TV signals for free.
  • In the name “top” is a general reference to any traditional broadcast distribution system — which, by definition, cannot be used by an OTT offering — and the general idea that OTT services “go over” them to get content to viewers.