Definition

over-the-top (OTT)

Contributor(s): Jennifer English

Over-the-top (OTT) is networking lingo that describes the delivery of content, services or applications over the internet. OTT edge providers typically deliver their content and services to customers on top of network infrastructure that is owned and maintained by internet service providers (ISPs), like Verizon and AT&T.

OTT content delivery allows customers with internet access to cut the cord for cable TV and landline phone service. Take, for example, a customer who likes to watch TV shows on a certain network. A cable provider might bundle that network with hundreds of other networks and charge the customer accordingly. With OTT content delivery however, the customer can download an app for the preferred network for free and only pay for internet access.

Examples of OTT providers and services

While some OTT providers supply content for free, others require customers to view advertisements or pay a small mothly subscription fee. OTT providers like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video offer video streaming services that provide members with internet-capable computing devices access movies, television shows, video clips and audio content. Customers who do not have internet TV can purchase video streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV or Google Chromecast to access and display internet content on a TV screen.

OTT's effect on telecom, internet and cable providers

The increasing availability of public Wi-Fi and unlimited wireless data plans has helped bolster the growth of OTT providers and services. This has challenged traditional content and service providers with finding ways to stay relevant or risk losing customers. For example, HBO launched its own video streaming service called HBO Now that lets customers view HBO shows without a cable subscription.

Competition among and between incumbents and OTT providers has resulted in a wider range of user choices and a transformation in how to access content.

The Net Neutrality connection

The Net Neutrality concept is closely connected to OTT services, in that according to Federal Communications Commission's 2015 regulations, which were upheld by a federal court in 2016, network operators cannot charge additional fees for giving priority to or speeding up traffic from edge providers that agree to pay higher fees for faster delivery. One major concern is that OTT content will cost consumers more if OTT providers have to pay network operators additional fees to transport their content because those costs would trickle down to consumers.

This was last updated in May 2017

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