Video on demand (VOD) or Audio video on demand (AVOD) systems allow users to select and watch/listen to video or audio content on demand.
VOD systems either stream content through a set-top box, allowing viewing in real time, or download it to a device such as a computer, digital video recorder, personal video recorder or portable media player for viewing at any time. The majority of cable and telco based television providers offer both VOD streaming, such as pay-per-view, whereby a user buys or selects a movie or television program and it begins to play on the television set almost instantaneously, or downloading to a DVR rented from the provider, for viewing in the future.
It is possible to put video servers on LANs, in which case they can provide very rapid response to users. Streaming video servers can also serve a wider community via a WAN, in which case the responsiveness may be reduced. Download VOD services are practical to homes equipped with cable modems or DSL connections. Servers for traditional cable and telco VOD services are usually placed at the cable head-end serving a particular market as well as cable hubs in larger markets. In the telco world, they are placed in either the central office, or a newly created location called a Video Head-End Office (VHO).
In 1998, Kingston Communications became the first UK company to launch a fully commercial VOD service and the first to integrate broadcast TV and Internet access through a single set-top box using IP delivery over ADSL. By 2001, Kingston Interactive TV had attracted 15,000 subscribers. After a number of trials, HomeChoice followed in 1999, but were restricted to London. After attracting 40,000 customers, they were bought by Tiscali in 2006. Cable TV providers Telewest and NTL (now Virgin Media) launched their VOD services in the United Kingdom in 2005, competing with the leading traditional pay TV distributor BSkyB. BSkyB responded by launching Sky by broadband, later renamed Sky Anytime on PC. The service went live on 2 January 2006. Sky Anytime on PC uses a legal peer-to-peer approach, based on Kontiki technology, to provide very high capacity multi-point downloads of the video content. Instead of the video content all being downloaded from Sky's servers, the content comes from multiple users of the system who have already downloaded the same content. Other UK TV broadcasters have implemented their own versions of the same technology, such as the BBC's iPlayer, which launched on 25 December 2007, and Channel 4's 4oD (4 On Demand) which launched in late 2006. The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 plan to launch a joint platform provisionally called Kangaroo in 2008.
VOD services were first offered in Hawaii by Oceanic Cable in January 2000, but are now available in all parts of the United States. Streaming VOD systems are available from cable providers (in tandem with cable modem technology) who use the large downstream bandwidth present on cable systems to deliver movies and television shows to end users, who can typically pause, fast-forward, and rewind VOD movies due to the low latency and random-access nature of cable technology. The large distribution of a single signal makes streaming VOD impractical for most satellite TV systems; however, EchoStar recently announced a plan to offer video on demand programming to PVR-owning subscribers of its Dish Network satellite TV service. After the programs are automatically recorded on a user's PVR, he or she can watch, play, pause, and seek at their convenience. VOD is also quite common in more expensive hotels. VOD systems that store and provide a user interface for content downloaded directly from the Internet are widely available.
According to the European Audiovisual Observatory, 142 paying VoD services were operational in Europe at the end of 2006.