Why Streaming Needs Special Hosting
Not all hosting plans can accommodate the resources it takes to stream audio or video files. Streaming hosting is specialized for media sharing. Imagine how frustrating it would be for your users to sit through a video that constantly stops and starts. Or for them to try to listen to music only to have their favorite songs cut off. How many of those visitors do you think would return to your site? Right.
Streaming hosting alleviates those kinds of issues. Some hosts that offer streaming plans are making them available via cloud hosting, which takes much of the burden of streaming off the local computer, speeding things up and increasing fidelity and reliability.
More Than Just Streaming: Other Hosting Features
Many streaming audio/video hosting providers also offer managed hosting, removing much of the day-to-day management and maintenance from your plate. This allows you to do more with your media-streaming site.
If what you plan to stream is anything along the lines of webinars, tutorials, or industry leader interviews, you may want to look for a host that archives your streaming media. This way, should anything happen to your site, you’ll be able to recover that data, and continue to provide service to your customers and listeners.
Why Do Your Own Streaming?
Over the last decade, streaming sites have sprung up all over the web. YouTube is perhaps the most famous, but there are thousands (many with a high Quantcast rank). In some cases, it really is best to use one of these sites to upload content and simply paste an embed code on your website.
But, there are some reasons to bypass these established services. So why should you set up your own streaming service?
- Streaming gives you more control over the way content is distributed to viewers
- You can host content for other users using a membership system, possibly charging a fee
- Your content doesn’t need to be associated with anyone else’s brand or website
- It’s easier (though not hassle-free) to host content that other sites may not publish
- You can create your own niche.
Make Sure You Follow the Law
Note that publishing your own content isn’t going to protect you from the law. If a site like YouTube won’t allow something because it’s copyrighted (or controversial), your web host will probably have the same opinion. However, some hosts do have more relaxed rules about what’s allowed to be streamed.
Features to Look for in Streaming Hosting
Selecting the right streaming host is vitally important. The five critical features are: reliability, bandwidth, storage, speed, and server power.
Before we get to the details, here is a list of the features, what they mean for the website owner, and what your goal is for the website visitor.
|What Streaming Features Mean for You and Your Visitors|
|Feature||Owner’s Attribute||Visitor’s Attribute|
|Reliability||Maximum Uptime||Media Always Available|
|Bandwidth||Large Streaming Ability||Uninterrupted Playback|
|Storage||Large Disk Space Amt||Availability of Content|
|Storage||Large Disk Space Amt||Availability of Content|
|Speed||SSDs and CDNs||Instant Access to Content|
|Server Power||VPS, Dedicate, Cloud||Dependable Streaming|
If your goal is to provide streaming media, your server needs to be constantly online. If media disappears halfway through streaming, it’s going to frustrate people, and users are unlikely to revisit the site.
100% uptime is not common in the web hosting industry, and when you find it, it’s not cheap.
Bandwidth is the amount of data that you can stream to your customers. If every show you need to stream is a gigabyte, you will need a lot of bandwidth, if you have a reasonable number of site visitors.
While a typical shared hosting plan may be marketed as “unlimited,” you’ll run into problems fairly quickly, since your usage is going to be disproportionate and could cause issues for other users.
You need sufficient bandwidth to handle massive amounts of data flowing from your host to your users, and the flexibility to cope with spikes in demand.
Before audiot or video can be streamed, it must be read from a file on disk. Although you won’t need as much storage as you do bandwidth, you still will need a fairly large allotment.
Once you have a lot of content, you might want to put your older or less popular content on a different server. Google and Dropbox both offer very good deals for this.
But you will still want to have a large storage capacity on your main server.
There’s nothing more frustrating than a video or audio track that continually stops and starts. Make sure you have speed on your side. Choose a server location close to your main users.
For the fastest disk speed, make sure that your host uses State Drives (SSDs). Many hosts now only use SSDs, and many others offer it for a relatively small extra charge. It is seriously worth considering.
What should you do if your user are spread out all over the world, or if you just want to provide the best service to the minority of your users who are located farther away? In these cases, you should seriously consider a content delivery network (CDN)
Streaming audio and video requires much more from a web server than just sending text a few small images. So if you want to stream well, you will need a powerful server.
Kind of Server: VPS, Dedicated, or Cloud
A VPS is the minimum you should buy for a streaming site. But serious sites use dedicated servers so that they run a completely isolated environment.
The other main option is cloud hosting, since your site will be run from multiple servers in a cluster, which should help it cope with peak demand and downtime.
Streaming Technologies: HTTP and Beyond
Additionally, your server must specifically support the streaming technology that you want to use.
Many hosts offer HTTP streaming on entry-level or mid-cost hosting plans, but this limits you to older technologies like RealPlayer and Windows Media Player.
For anything more complex, such as streaming Flash video, you’ll need something like FFMpeg instead.
Let’s Talk About Scale
If you plan to host videos that may get popular or go viral, you’ll need to be able to scale quickly, especially if you’re hosting HD video files that require a lot of bandwidth.
When you choose a host, make sure that it’s one that lets you scale up your resources as you need. Most hosts that offer VPSs will be able to accommodate your viewers.
“Unlimited” Bandwidth and Disk Space
Be careful with plans that offer “unlimited” bandwidth and disk space on shared hosting plans. They only offer unlimited resources until it affects other customers. Streaming video, and even audio to a lesser extent, will almost certainly cause your content to slow down to an unusable speed.
What About a CDN?
On our blog, we’ve referred to the CDN as a game-changing technology for hosting. Since web hosting customers are producing more content, the CDN is really coming into its own, and streaming media is one of its many specialties.
With a CDN, your streaming content is hosted in multiple locations (in your area and around the world), so it’s served more quickly no matter where the user is based. The technology is ideal for any website that needs very high uptime and good speeds. It is why it is used by gaming giant Steam.
Should You Get a Third-Party CDN?
If your hosting provider doesn’t offer media streaming, you could use a third party CDN to bridge the gap.
However, this means you have to deal with two providers just to publish your posts or content.
What Out for CDN Limits
Additionally, not all CDN providers will allow you to stream media, so check the specs carefully. You’ll also need to weigh up the pros and cons of push vs pull CDNs.
Is a CDN Right for You?
CDNs are very powerful, but they add a layer of complexity and a secondary cost. To conclude: keep it simple, if you can.
Choose a host that offers a robust streaming service. If you have the perfect host but no streaming support, a CDN could be the answer.
Pros and Cons of Hosting Your Own Audio and Video
Streaming audio and video is a serious endeavor. So it isn’t a surprise that there are some major pros and cons of doing it yourself.
- Great reasons to use streaming hosting to stream your own media:
- You have complete control of your content
- It’s easier to edit content
- You can customize media options.
- Important considerations that might cause you to avoid doing your own streaming:
- It’s expensive
- You’re responsible for all formatting and optimization
- Not all hosts can scale with traffic.
More About the Pros of Streaming Your Own Media
Having complete control of content is helpful. When you upload content to a third-party site like YouTube or Vimeo, you waive some rights. Additionally, you can’t control who sees it, and have little control over other aspects (eg, you can’t choose specific pre-roll ad).
One of the best features of streaming your own content is your ability to control that content. If you make changes to a video, you can simply replace it on your site if you’re hosting it yourself. If you were on YouTube, your video rankings, comments, and stats would be wiped out.
Customization is also really important. You get to choose the exact formats to offer to visitors. For example, you can offer downloads or even live streaming.
More About the Cons of Streaming Your Own Media
Cost is probably the biggest thing that stops people from doing their own streaming. Video, and (to a lesser extent) audio, require a lot of storage space and bandwidth. And hosting that provides that does not come cheap.
Cost may seem like the biggest issue with streaming, but more important is your responsibility to make sure everything runs correctly — especially if you are selling streaming resources. If you upload a video to YouTube (and then embed it), YouTube takes care of all that automatically. That is convenience that is hard to put a price on.
More than with most kinds of hosting, streaming is a place where you really have to be careful. The more traffic you need, the more data you need to transfer. Some hosts scale better than others. You need to do your homework and pick the right host.
My Choices: The Top Three Streaming Hosts
By this point, it must be clear that choosing the right streaming server is no easy job. But don’t despair!
|Top 3 Streaming Hosts|
|Host||Price per Month||User Rating|
|SiteGround||$80.00 – $429.00||4.8 / 5.0|
|A2 Hosting||$15.00 – $290.49||4.7 / 5.0|
|Liquid Web||$59.00 – $269.00||4.8 / 5.0|
Looking at all the major hosts, I’ve come up with what I think are the three best.
If you’re looking for a host that provides great infrastructure that can grow with you, lots of bells and whistles, and great support staff, SiteGround
is probably your choice.
They offer SSDs on all plans, even shared hosting. In addition, all plans use nginx web servers that are customized for speed. They also offer Cloudflare CDN for no extra charge.
is one of the few web hosts that specifically tailors plans for video and audio streaming sites. Certain plans are built on the Wowza streaming engine, which is a media server specifically designed for streaming services with ultra-low latency.
Wowza comes with a lightweight HTML5 and Flash video player, but supports others as well. The only catch is that you’re expected to have a bit more technical developing skills than most other hosts.
Finally, Liquid Web
is a solid choice if you’re looking for maximum reliability, high performance, and great support.
It comes with highly trained 24/7 support, as well as a 100% power uptime guarantee. The servers are top-notch, built for speed with SSDs and CDNs built in. And they have lots of hosting choices, so they can grow with your business.
Streaming media is the future, and that future is now.
More and more, site visitors expect video and audio as part of your site. So don’t get left behind.
Provide video or audio to your audience by getting a reliable streaming host today.
Other features in Specialty
- Multiple Domain hosting
- DDoS Protection
- Domain Name
- Adult Hosting
- Green Hosting
- Unlimited Sites
Streaming Audio/Video Frequently Asked Questions
What is streaming?
Streaming is a way of delivering multimedia content on demand over the internet.
What’s a typical use case?
With streaming, you can also serve live content in real time, which is a key advantage over other methods. For example, you could host a radio show and stream the audio live to listeners on your website.
Some website owners also create video content and serve streaming versions on their website, bypassing sites like YouTube.
Why would I need support for streaming on my hosting account?
Streaming audio or video can be consumed as it is received, so it’s ideal for websites that want to deliver audio or video without lengthy downloads. Most users prefer to stream media content, rather than waiting for the whole file to download before they can play it, and streaming offers that convenience.
Is streaming video or audio supported by all web hosting companies?
No. Many hosts will ask that you purchase a VPS or dedicated server. Streaming is supported on some shared hosting packages, but it is not a standard feature because of the server resource it consumes. Be sure to check the host’s technical specifications carefully to find out which streaming media file types are supported, and what its acceptable use policy is.
Do hosting packages with streaming cost more than regular hosting?
Not necessarily, but you will certainly find that you need additional resources. Video and audio media files are much larger than HTML files, images, and scripts, so you will need a much larger disk space allowance. Additionally, video and audio use up a lot of bandwidth, and purchasing a high-bandwidth plan can be expensive.
Can I be penalized for streaming content on a shared hosting account?
Few shared hosting accounts support streaming in the true sense. If yours does, your host will expect you to use it sparingly. Excessive consumption of resources will impact other users on your server, and you will probably be asked to upgrade to a VPS or dedicated server if that happens. Your host may bill you, or close your account, if your resource use is excessive.
Do I need streaming to embed video and audio on my website?
No. You can simply embed the file into your web page, and it will start playing as it is downloaded. This is called progressive downloading. It’s less flexible than streaming, but it is sufficient if you only need to provide media occasionally.
What is the difference between streaming and progressive downloading?
From the user’s point of view, streaming and progressive downloading are similar. Behind the scenes, there are some differences.
With streaming, the data isn’t (normally) being saved to disk, but is being played as it is downloaded. This means that you can create live streams (like radio shows), and the user can listen in near-real time.
With progressive downloading, the user’s computer begins to download the media file to disk, and then starts playing it as soon as there is enough data to start playback. This is a similar experience, but it can result in more buffering, and it can’t be used for live broadcasts.
What is buffering?
Buffering occurs when the user’s connection speed is too slow to download the file as it is played. When a file buffers, playback pauses to allow the next section of the file to be retrieved. Playback then automatically resumes.
Most media players will download a portion of the file before streaming begins. This provides a cushion against buffering. However, users with slow or intermittent connections may experience buffering no matter how you serve the content.
What is the difference between live streaming and on-demand streaming?
Normally, your viewer/ listener cannot cannot pause, rewind, or fast-forward when streaming, because the file is not necessarily being stored on disk first. On-demand streaming means that the file has been created already, and is saved on the server. The viewer can open it at any time, and use a timeline to skip forward or back.
Can the person streaming the content save it to disk?
Technically, yes, but it doesn’t normally happen by default. The user would need to have special software, like VLC Player, to record the stream locally.
What software will the end user need to play streaming video or audio?
This depends on the file type that you use. Most web browsers have streaming audio and video players built in, so with many standard streaming media files, your views or listeners will not need any additional software. In some cases, they may need to install a plugin or codec. The browser should detect this and guide them through the process.
Some streaming content publishers will create apps for their own streams, which are just generic stream players packaged with a branded UI and information about the stream’s broadcasting source.
What is a codec?
A codec is a specific format used for encoding and decoding a streaming audio or video file. Different players support different codecs, and it’s possible to download additional codecs for some players.
As a broadcaster, it’s best to select a codec that is supported on the most popular browsers and devices.
Why are there so many codec formats?
There is no single industry standard, and no one codec is superior to the others. Some people prefer certain codecs because of file size, quality, processing speed, or device interoperability.
Are there any alternatives to streaming on my own server?
If you’re running your own audio or video website, you probably need control of your own files, which is where streaming support is useful. No other solution offers this control.
But if you just want to embed content, and you don’t need that control, you can upload your content to YouTube, Vimeo, or Soundcloud. You use the third party to host your media, and then link to it dynamically from your own website. This provides reduced storage and bandwidth costs, and a larger potential audience, as well as automatic reformatting for different connection speeds and screen sizes.
About Dale Cudmore
Freelance blogger by day, developer by night, Dale is a freelance writer who specializes in technology and digital marketing. He studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo. After finding that unfulfilling, he moved onto a career in freelance writing, while self-teaching himself web development on the side.