The term "streaming" usually refers to digital media, such as video or audio, available for on-demand or real-time consumption over an Internet connection. Streaming services operate databases of content that users are able to access at any time through special programs or Web clients that call up the media.
A streaming service uses an active Internet connection to allow a user access to a collection of either video or audio content, such as songs, television shows or movies. Each service uses its own technology to handle access and distribution, but all involve a user client that connects with the database and returns the appropriate content to the user without the need to house the content locally. It stands in contrast to downloadable media, which requires a complete copy of the file on a device, and broadcast media, which is only available on a set schedule.
One example of streaming content is the instant streaming service from Netflix. A customer with an active subscription to Netflix can log into the company's site or launch the Netflix app on an authorized video game console or streaming device to watch different television shows and movies. The service actively transmits the files over the Internet to the user's device as she watches the program, rather than forcing her to download the video first or uniformly sending it out to all customers at one specific time.