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What is Video Streaming & How Does It Work? | Full Guide

What is video streaming? Read our guide to find out, and learn how video streaming works, plus what you need to start your own video stream.
Kendall Breitman
Social Media & Community Expert
Last Updated:
March 5, 2024
Reviewed by
Ortal Hadad

If you want to engage your followers, video streaming may be the answer. Experts predict that the global streaming markets will be worth upwards of $1.69 trillion by 2029. As a content creator, this is a cost-effective way to share your message with your audience and build real brand awareness. So, how does it work and where should you start?

You’ve come to the right place. In the following guide, we’re going to cover the video streaming basics and what you need to know to give it a whirl. You can expect to learn: 

  • What video streaming is and which platforms offer it
  • The advantages of video streaming as a content creator 
  • How to use Riverside to get started with your video creation 
  • Tips for improving your video streaming speed

Getting started with video streaming doesn’t have to be difficult. Read on to learn how you can record your own videos, edit, and share them with your audience effortlessly. 

What is video streaming?

Before we go any further, let’s go over what video streaming is. Simply put, this is any video footage transmitted to viewers directly over the internet. The video files are sent as compressed data and then watched as a continuous playback. All at the click of a button!

Video streaming is easy for both content creators and their audiences. In a matter of minutes, you can share a video clip with an audience and they can watch it straight away. You can either share pre-recorded footage or “go live” and stream real-time footage. With the latter, audiences can watch your videos as they are being recorded — while pre-recorded content can be edited before you upload and share it with them. 

What is an example of video streaming?

Chances are, you have already come across video streaming in some way, shape, or form. Mainstream entertainment brands including Netflix, Hulu, and Disney Plus use this system to offer a wide selection of video content to their subscribers. 

You can also look at YouTube, one of the most popular video streaming platforms. Whether you are starting your own YouTube channel or using the platform to promote an existing podcast, video streaming can help support your goals. You may choose to film podcast recording sessions and publish them as videos, for example. 

How does video streaming work?

Before you start streaming content to your audience, you need to know how it works. You don’t have to be a technical mastermind to understand the basics. First you’ll record your video and polish it till it’s complete.

Next, you can upload it to a streaming platform or site, such as YouTube, where your video is stored on a server. At this point your video is compressed into smaller “data packets”. When a viewer starts playing the video, it decompresses so that they can watch it in full. 

Platforms receive and load the data packets a moment before they play. For this reason, the player may need a second or two to “buffer” the data. 

Video streaming vs. downloading

When it comes to streaming versus downloading, it’s easy to get a little confused. Both are ways of sending files and receiving data over the internet.

The main difference is that video streaming enables viewers to watch a continuous playback of content over the internet without having to store anything directly on their device. Downloading creates a copy on their device or hard drive. If viewers choose to download video content, they have to wait for the file to sync before they can watch it. However, when they use a streaming platform, they are able to watch the content instantly. 

Why should you stream video?

Now that you understand what video streaming is, let’s dive into why you should use it as a content creator. If you’re hoping to take things to the next level, offering your audience video content is an excellent way to engage and excite them. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the advantages (and disadvantages) of getting started with video streaming. 

Advantages of video streaming

Piracy protection 

Offering streamed video content — rather than downloadable content — is a savvy way to protect your intellectual property. Downloads can spread far and fast, and the truth is that you have no way of knowing where they end up. When you use video streaming, you have a clear idea of who is viewing your content and where they are. While nothing is foolproof, this step allows you to better protect your content and even track it, should you need to.

Audience growth

Are you looking for ways to grow your audience? The convenience of video streaming means that multiple people can access your content at once. If you want to reach a large audience base, you can stream videos using YouTube or similar platforms. 

Instant playback

We live in a fast-paced world in which audiences expect content to be instantaneous. Luckily, you can offer this feature when you use video streaming platforms. As we have already mentioned, viewers only have to click a button, (perhaps) wait a couple of seconds for the clip to buffer, and then enjoy a fully continuous video experience.  

No downloads 

The alternative to video streaming is downloadable content. When a user has to download a video file, that takes time and storage space. A major advantage of video streaming is that users don’t have to download anything at all. They can simply click “play” and go.

Live streaming

Video streaming gives you the possibility to share content live as you’re recording. Live streaming is a quick way to engage audiences! You can communicate with your viewers in real time — e.g. answer questions or respond to their comments. When you’re trying to build a community of followers, this type of interaction creates a sense of closeness.

Disadvantages of video streaming

Data usage

One disadvantage of video streaming — that you will hear cited time and time again — is that it uses a lot of data. That is true. However, according to Popular Science, streaming a full movie in HD uses approximately the same amount of data as downloading the same movie. For that reason, there is unlikely to be a difference between the two options. 

Relies on internet connection

Video streaming relies on the internet. You will need a stable connection when uploading your content to a streaming platform and more so when live streaming. Equally, the viewers will need to have access to reliable internet when they are watching your videos. 

What do you need to start video streaming?

Ready to start video streaming and growing your audience? Before you can get started, you will need to get some equipment and software. Here’s what you need to know. 

Equipment for streaming video

To set up your video streaming studio at home, you will need to invest in the right hardware. You can read about the specific products you should buy on our live stream equipment guide. We have top product picks to align with your personal budget.

As a general rule, you will need to get a quality video camera, microphones, a lighting setup, mixing equipment, and a video switcher. If your camera does not capture video in a format compatible with your streaming platform, you may need an encoder too.

Software for streaming video

Choosing the right streaming software is essential. At Riverside, we specialize in remote recording, providing professional video recording features. Our online recording studios allow you to record your videos like a pro. You can then use our editor to perfect your content. When you’re all done, you can simply upload the final video to any online streaming platform.

Of course, there are alternative options for pre-recorded video streaming, including OneStream, Streamlabs OBS, and Lightstream. Before you start creating your video content, it pays to research the software and platform you will be using to stream it.

Start video streaming with Riverside

Streaming with Riverside

Riverside can help you launch your video content. The platform allows you to record both video and audio content locally, rather than relying on an internet connection. This means you don’t have to worry about internet connection ruining your recording resolution. 

You then get WAV and mp4 files that offer clear, quality audio and video — the files are not compressed. Each host and/or guest has their own audio or video track for simple editing. 

Key Features:

  • ​​High-quality resolution: Record video at up to 4K resolution
  • Local recording: Film your content without using the internet so connectivity disruptions don’t ruin your resolution
  • Remote recording: Add up to 7 different guests from anywhere in the world to your next session
  • Live streaming capabilities: Share your recording sessions with audiences in real time by broadcasting them to other platforms 
  • Text-based video and audio Editor: Polish your videos with a set of easy-to-use tools for removing unwanted sections, creating clips and customizing your video layout with branding!
  • Media board: Add snazzy sound effects to your video live while recording
  • Magic Clips: Create promotional clips in one quick click and publish them online to grow your reach
  • Easy sharing to YouTube: Export your edited videos and upload them to the platform as MP4 files
  • Ease of Use: We’ve made recording simple with a clean interface and straightforward features, all supported by our dedicated Help Center. 
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How to stream video on Riverside

If you’re prepared to get started and record your streaming video on Riverside, follow these steps:

Step 1: Open Riverside and log into your account. You will need to use either Google Chrome or the iOS or Android app. 

Step 2: Click +New Studio to create a studio for your video recording.

Creating a new video streaming studio

Step 3: Name your studio and choose Audio & Video. Since you are making a video, you should select this option before starting out.

Step 4: Press Enter studio. Join as a host and enter your name. Allow access to your microphone and camera and then select whether you’re using headphones or not. When you are ready, select ‘Join Studio’ 

Testing equipment on Riverside before a video stream

Step 5: In the studio, you should see a box that says Invite guests.

Select the guests option in the dropdown menu and copy the link to invite participants to your studio.

 (Note: You can also send out invite links before you enter the studio.) 

Inviting people to a video stream

Step 6: Press the record button and wait for the countdown. Get talking and record your video. 

Video streaming on Riverside

Step 7: When you are ready to finish your video, you should stop the recording by pressing the stop button again. You will stay on the call — with any other participants — until you press end call

Wait for your recordings to completely upload before you end the call. 

Step 8: When your recordings are uploaded, click View recordings in the studio you created. 

Click the recording you want to edit and then press Edit & create clips on the top right of your screen to go to the Editor. Here, we use Ai transcriptions so you can make smooth cuts as easily as editing a text document. You can change the background, layout, and size of the video. Additionally, you can add your logo and move it to any position on the video. 

Bonus: Want to edit your video using other software? No problem! You can download your recording as separate tracks and upload it to your chosen software. Check out our guides on how to import your video into Adobe Premiere Pro or Descript for more information.  

Step 9: Click Download > High-quality tracks > Raw video to save your content as an MP4 file. You can then upload it to your chosen streaming platform. 

Tips for improving streaming speed

For creators:

You want to offer viewers the best experience. Whether you are broadcasting your content (in a live stream) or uploading it, there are a few ways you can improve the speed.

  • Follow the streaming platform guidelines: Each streaming platform will have its own advice on how to improve streaming quality. Before you upload or broadcast, take a moment to read the guidelines. You may find that there are useful nuggets of information that you hadn’t considered. 
  • Lower the recording quality: If your video is constantly buffering, it may be worth opting for a lower-res alternative. You may want to consider lowering the quality of your recording. That means that the final file will be smaller allowing for a smoother, faster upload. 
  • Compress your videos: What if you’ve already recorded your content in high resolution? You can try compressing your videos to make the files smaller and, as mentioned, quicker to upload. 
Try Riverside’s free lossless compressor to reduce your video’s file size without compromising your video’s quality.

For viewers:

Are your viewers having trouble watching your content? If so, there are a couple of tips they can try that will help them improve the streaming speed:

  • Turn off any competing apps/software: Apps — such as music platforms or video players — may be running in the background. When you’re trying to stream video content, it’s important that other software is not competing for bandwidth. Closing down all other apps could help boost the stream speed. 
  • Check your internet connection: If people are streaming videos at home, they will need roughly 4 Mbps of bandwidth. For those who are having trouble with the speed of their streams, it’s worth checking this. Upgrading to a better connection or getting some tech support could be the answer. 

FAQs on What is Video Streaming

What is the difference between streaming and watching a video?

Video streaming offers continuous playback without you having to save a copy of the video file to your computer. That is one way to watch videos online. An alternative is downloading videos — and saving them on your hard drive before you watch them.

Is video streaming free?

Some platforms — such as YouTube — offer free video streaming services. However, there’s a wide selection of options out there. Entertainment platforms, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Disney Plus offer a paid subscription streaming service. 

How much does video streaming cost?

The cost of video streaming will vary from platform to platform. Before you get started, it is worth looking at the available options to see which ones suit your needs. Fortunately, with Riverside, you can start creating your own videos for free!

Is Netflix considered video streaming?

Yes, Netflix is a subscription-based video streaming platform. However, the site also offers downloadable content for users. The videos that are available for download vary by location. If a user chooses this option, the episode temporarily saves on their device.

Is YouTube considered video streaming?

Yes, YouTube is a video-streaming site and app. The platform offers both free video streaming content and, more recently, a paid Premium subscription service. You can read our blog to learn how to make money on YouTube.

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