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Streaming media is multimedia that is constantly received by and presented to an end-user while being delivered by a provider. The verb "to stream" refers to the process of delivering or obtaining media in this manner; the term refers to the delivery method of the medium, rather than the medium itself, and is an alternative to file downloading, a process in which the end-user obtains the entire file for the content before watching or listening to it.

A typical webcast, streaming in an embedded media player
A live feed from a camera pointed at a fish tank with multiple stream encoding qualities
A live stream from a camera pointed at a fish tank, Schou FishCam

Streaming media is multimedia that is constantly received by and presented to an end-user while being delivered by a provider. The verb "to stream" refers to the process of delivering or obtaining media in this manner; the term refers to the delivery method of the medium, rather than the medium itself, and is an alternative to file downloading, a process in which the end-user obtains the entire file for the content before watching or listening to it.

A client end-user can use their media player to begin to play the data file (such as a digital file of a movie or song) before the entire file has been transmitted. Distinguishing delivery method from the media distributed applies specifically to telecommunications networks, as most of the delivery systems are either inherently streaming (e.g. radio, television) or inherently non-streaming (e.g. books, video cassettes, audio CDs). For example, in the 1930s, elevator music was among the earliest popularly available streaming media; nowadays Internet television is a common form of streamed media. The term "streaming media" can apply to media other than video and audio such as live closed captioning, ticker tape, and real-time text, which are all considered "streaming text". The term "streaming" was first used for tape drives made by Data Electronics Inc. for drives meant to slowly ramp up and run for the entire track; the slow ramp times resulted in lower drive costs, making a more competitive product. "Streaming" was applied in the early 1990s as a better description for "video on demand" on IP networks; at the time such video was usually referred to as "store and forward video", which was misleading nomenclature.

As of 2016, streaming is generally taken to refer to cases where a user watches digital video content and/or listens to digital audio content on a computer screen and speakers (ranging from a desktop computer to a smartphone) over the Internet. With streaming content, the user does not have to download the entire digital video or digital audio file before they start to watch/listen to it. There are challenges with streaming content on the Internet. If the user does not have enough bandwidth in their Internet connection, they may experience stops in the content and some users may not be able to stream certain content due to not having compatible computer or software systems. As of 2016, two popular streaming services are the video sharing website YouTube, which contains video and audio files on a huge range of topics and Netflix, which streams movies and TV shows.

Live streaming refers to Internet content delivered in real-time, as events happen, much as live television broadcasts its contents over the airwaves via a television signal. An example of live streaming is Metropolitan Opera Live in HD, a program in which the Metropolitan Opera streams an opera performance "live", as the performance is taking place; in 2013–2014, 10 operas were transmitted via satellite into at least 2,000 theaters in 66 countries. Live internet streaming requires a form of source media (e.g. a video camera, an audio interface, screen capture software), an encoder to digitize the content, a media publisher, and a content delivery network to distribute and deliver the content. Live streaming does not need to be recorded at the origination point, although it frequently is.

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