What's Video On Demand?

Have you been pining away for the “good old days,” wishing you could watch a favorite episode of Happy Days to get your Fonzie fix? Video on Demand (VoD) can help you with that. Miss the Patriots game and wonder whether you’ll catch Bill Belichek violating NFL policy? Video on Demand can help you with that, too!

Getting Video On Demand

So exactly what is video on demand? Video on demand’s a very simple concept: you watch what you want, where you want, and when you want. The key to VoD is simple: it’s virtual, you get the content free or for a fee, and you get to watch it at your leisure.

Video on demand comes in two forms: streaming video, or downloadable material. Audio on demand comes in the form of Napster or iTunes — these are audio files that can be downloaded onto a portable device such as an iPod or other mp3 player, or on a laptop with speakers.

Video on demand can include downloads as well; popular movie sites such as Movielink sell video’s on demand to shoppers. From anywhere between $0.99 to $4.99 you can download an entire movie onto your computer hard drive. The only catch is that you can watch it once, and then it’s unwatchable. This is because you’re paying a usage fee, not a purchase price.

Streaming Video On Demand

Streaming VoD, on the other hand, isn’t downloaded; it’s viewed from a web site instead. YouTube’s the most ubiquitous of streaming video sites. It’s everywhere, and bloggers, message board users—heck, any internet user—can embed a YouTube clip into a website. You can also go into YouTube’s website and do a search for nearly anything, to be viewed immediately. Want to watch the sexy scenes from this week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy? Search on You Tube. Your grandma wants to see old animated clips from Felix the Cat? YouTube it!

Streaming video’s also popular on pornographic websites. Viewing this content isn’t free; generally users pay an access fee, rather than a use fee. Users receive unlimited viewing privileges (in exchange for a fee) to gain access for, say, 48 hours, or seven days, or one month.

Do I Have To Have Internet?

Video on demand isn’t restricted to the internet. Your cable service provider most likely offers VoD service for an additional fee. Stayed in a hotel recently? Video on demand was most likely heavily advertised on the television as an amenity, with a per-movie viewing charge ranging from $5 to $12. Are the kids clamoring to watch Spiderman III but you’re too tired to haul them to a theater? Order up a movie and enjoy the silence, thanks to VoD.

At home, VoD often has a limited selection of free content. If you’re Desperately Seeking Susan or hoping to see Mr. Mom, the free video on demand via cable provider’s your nirvana! Otherwise, newer content carries a fee, and when you select paid content via your cable remote, the fee’s tacked on to your monthly cable bill, and the file can only be viewed via television. But be sure to watch your tech-savvy four year old carefully lest you discover he’s ordered Curious George 47 times in one month!

The essential promise of video on demand’s been satisfied; video when you want it, where you want it (for the most part), and iTunes even carries downloadable television shows from such networks as ABC. Video on iPods takes the cake; you can catch up on Lost while riding the train on the morning commute or sitting at the park while the kids play.

New websites such as Joost take video on demand to a new level by delivering television shows to you right from their site. It’s a step forward for television on demand. In the meantime, before you drag yourself to the video store click on that “On Demand” button on your cable remote and check out the content; you might be surprised to find free content or reasonably-priced movies that you can watch without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Longer term, there is concern that VoD could circumvent theaters. Illegal video on demand’s a hot black market; Shareaza and other file-sharing programs allow users to surreptitiously record movies in theaters, upload them, and boom—you have an illegal copy of the latest blockbuster the day after opening night, without spending $15 for two tickets and paying a babysitter.

The Future of Video On Demand

So, what’s next? Will studios offer simul-premieres via controlled video on demand (with a fee) the same night the movies premiere in theaters? Will educational institutions change the way they teach today’s students?

There’s a whole realm of possibility with video on demand. And whatever the future holds, VoD is hot and it's here to stay.