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The 'Streaming' Battle for Viewers

11/04/2014 12:43 BST | Updated 11/06/2014 10:59 BST

The rise of services like BBC iPlayer, Netflix and NOW TV has created a TV viewing revolution, but it isn't clear yet who the winner will be in this new battle for the viewers' attention.

In my opinion, linear TV, which refers to when the viewer has to watch a scheduled TV program at a particular time on a given channel, isn't really dead. While we don't religiously watch shows at the same time every day, we do create our own 'linear' solutions.

For example, many of us may have watched the first three series of Game of Thrones in the run up to the new series. I see this form of viewing as a return to the old way of reading a book, where you read several chapters over a course of a few evenings. This may also help to avoid that annoying story cliché of every action show having a cliff hanger at the end.

Youngsters lead web TV growth

However, not everyone regularly watches streamed films or TV series. A high proportion of the younger generation would rather have their own tablet than a portable TV. This change in viewing habits is not going to kill the big screen TV because invariably once young people leave home and can afford their own place a large TV is one of the first purchases. The difference in 2014 is that they connect the TV or set-top boxes to their broadband from day one.

The battlefield

The forthcoming battle is going to be about which platform we all use for streaming. In terms of streaming hardware there is so much choice, with plug and play devices such as a Roku, the NOW TV box and the recently launched Amazon Fire TV device. The biggest problem at the moment is having enough HDMI inputs on a TV to cope with the devices. Aside from games consoles, almost none of the small streaming boxes support all the major streaming platforms which is in part due to commercial interests. For example, NOW TV, which is part of the BSkyB empire, isn't likely to allow competition onto their platform until such a time as a competition regular tells them to.

NOW TV

If we take the NOW TV box, it costs just £9.99, or you can buy a bundle of subscriptions where the box is free, and allows you to access Sky Movies for less per month than a satellite TV subscription. Assuming you have broadband that can cope with a 4Mbps constant stream, it will be better quality than the standard definition satellite service, whilst HD is available over the satellite but increases the subscription cost.

AMAZON FIRE TV

The Fire TV costing $99 (probably £99 in the UK), needs to be special and it looks to be more of a competitor to Apple TV than the Chromecast USB stick. The ability to load selected Android apps and games makes it an entry level games console too, which pits it against competition such as Xbox 360 or Sony PS3 which can run all the same streaming apps and have a massive back catalogue of games.

Bandwidth

If you gorge on streamed content make sure you are on an unlimited usage broadband service. I recently watched Game of Thrones on catch-up over a Friday and Saturday night and my NOW TV box ate its way through 22 Gigabytes of data. Those people who have in the past saved perhaps £2 per month on their broadband subscription by opting for a 10GB or 40GB monthly usage allowance, be aware that you will need to upgrade. In addition, with 4G mobile broadband offering the speeds required for streaming, not many people would be willing to pay the usage costs if they use 100GB of data every month.

Smart TVs and their apps

Given the pace of change in the streaming game, it makes no sense to buy a TV based on the apps it supports. It is better to buy the best TV in terms of picture and sound quality. While the apps in a Smart TV can be upgraded, they often rely on hardware that cannot be upgraded. One other advantage of the small devices such as Roku is that you can take them on your travels.

If you can, connect your streaming media player via an Ethernet cable to your broadband router, this can avoid glitches caused by interference on your Wi-Fi network. Interestingly, with just two neighbours' routers in range, plus my own three wireless networks, some evenings I get congestion on the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi spectrum.

So if you buy a Chromecast or NOW TV box which only offer Wi-Fi connectivity and there are lots of Wi-Fi networks in the area, be prepared for some occasional buffering, no matter how good your broadband connection is. Therefore, try to find hardware that uses the 5GHz band which has more capacity and should be less congested for several more years.

Memories

With all the choice I have for TV content, there are still nights when trying to pick something to watch that I remember wandering around a Blockbuster trying to find a film to watch and failing sometimes. There is also lots of content that daft licencing agreements ensure are not available on legal streaming platforms or are only available many years after their cinema release Invariably these films are available for rent a copy from the online store, but when the rental price is almost the same as my monthly subscription, it feels very expensive.