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OTT vs. OTA vs. CTV - What’s The Difference?

Unfamiliar acronyms are abundant in today's streaming landscape. The technical jargon used to describe the TV industry can be overwhelming. That’s why FreeCast is here to help. Don’t think of these acronyms as a gate to keep you from entering the streaming landscape. Instead, think of it as a learning opportunity to help you become an expert cord cutter! This article will help you understand the difference between OTT, OTA, CTV, SVOD, AVOD, and so many more terms.The definitions we provide in this article will be coming from the OTT Glossary from Tappx and Tappcelerator Media. We’ll start with the basics and then dive into some more niche terms to give you a broad overview of the industry.OTT vs. OTASince we’ll be pulling these definitions from an OTT Glossary, we should probably explain what OTT stands for. According to Tappx, OTT “stands for ‘Over-the-Top’. Refers to any traditional communication service that is transmitted over the Internet, as opposed to services with traditional video transmission cable or satellite.”Essentially, OTT refers to television and streaming programs that come from the internet. OTT does not require a traditional cable subscription to access. OTT is a delivery system, as opposed to a device. This distinction is important for later.OTT’s counterpart is OTA, which stands for Over-the-Air. Unsurprisingly, since Tappx’s glossary is OTT-specific, it does not define OTA. We can help with that. Over the air is television that is accessed using a digital antenna to capture airwaves that transmit the TV signal. These signals can be freely accessed, which is why many cord cutters may have an antenna to pick up local channels. It is a great supplement for your streaming services.There are many pros and cons to accessing OTA television. For one, it’s cheap and easy, requiring $20-$50 for an antenna. After that, there’s no monthly fee. However, you need to be close to a broadcast center to pick up these signals in high quality. There’s also no tech support, so you'll be on your own.Now that we have a clear distinction between OTT and OTA, we can dive into some more terminology to help you understand the world of streaming. CTV vs. Linear TVThe next term on our list to cover is CTV. According to Tappx, CTV means “Connected TV. [CTV] refers to devices that use a television as a screen and connect to the internet to access audiovisual content.” Remember that distinction mentioned above? That’s where this comes into handy.CTV itself is device specific. OTT is delivery specific. Examples of CTV are Smart TVs, Roku and Chromecast devices, gaming consoles, etc. These are the mediums in which you access your OTT content, but they are not the OTT content in question. CTV is in direct contrast with Linear TV, the next term we will be talking about. And while Linear TV is not device specific like CTV is, they’re still relevant enough to be grouped together. According to Tappx, “The linear TV nomenclature refers to traditional television services. That is, the model in which programs are transmitted over the air using systems such as digital terrestrial television or a satellite connection.”To put it short, if you’re using CTV to access programming, you’re most likely not using Linear TV. Some people may refer to certain channels that broadcast shows at specific times as Linear Channels. It’s a classic system used by most OTA viewers with either the aforementioned antenna or their standard cable subscription. While we’re on the topic of Linear Channels, we should also touch on the acronym FAST. This stands for “free ad-supported television” and is a system for providing content to viewers. Tappx explains FAST as “free TV broadcast services with advertising, that is, they offer free content that would otherwise normally be paid content.”In the example of SelectTV, Linear Channels are those that are included in your SelectTV package. When you want to watch something live, just click “channels” on the left-hand menu. Most of these channels follow a FAST format, where they come at no extra cost to you. Even though they are on a streaming service, however, they still have ad breaks. The same can be said for things like the Roku Channel and IMDb TV, both of which provide free programming with incorporated ad breaks.AVOD vs. SVODIt’s surprising that we’ve gotten so far in this article without the acronym VOD popping up. VOD “stands for Video on Demand. System where users choose what programming to watch at any time. It differs from linear programming that traditional television carries.” Right here, we can see how this ties into Linear TV, as it’s the complete opposite. VOD are things like streaming services, sites like YouTube, and anything pay-per-view.There are many different types of VODs, but the ones we’re going to be focusing on are AVOD and SVOD. AVOD stands for “advertising video on demand.” It's “the name given to the video on demand service that generates income by playing advertisements within the service. An example is the free YouTube platform, which plays ads over its videos and has display ad placements with which it generates revenue.”Just remember that the A stands for Advertisement, and that’s a quick way to distinguish the two. On the other hand, SVOD is “subscription video on demand. Video on demand service in which a prior subscription is required to access the desired content."  These are your Netflixes and Hulus of streaming, since they don’t have ads. Note that an SVOD can incorporate advertisements, such as HBO Max’s ad-supported paid plan. While we’re at it, let’s throw in FVOD, a lesser-used term but still relevant in this conversation. FVOD “stands for Free video on Demand. Type of video on demand in which the subscriber receives unlimited access to videos without additional payment or display of ads” according to Tappx. It’s hard to imagine where FVOD fits into today’s landscapes since it produces little revenue.Additional Terms To Know = the volume of data that can be transmitted from one point to another in a fixed period of time. Different online services require different bandwidths. For example, in a standard definition (SD) video (480p) this indicator is set at 1 megabit per second (Mbps). Meanwhile, in high definition (HD) videos (720p), it is raised to 4 Mbps.CDN (Content Delivery Network) = network of servers located in countries that serve the content according to the location of the users. It [optimizes] the loading speed and guarantees the optimal experience for the end user.DTC (Direct to Consumer) = when the content distributor does not need intermediaries to get their produce to the final consumer. For example, Netflix does not require a television channel to show its content; delivered DTC.EPG (Electronic Program Guide) = software with an interface where the platform user can access the different available content (linear and on demand) through enriched descriptions.IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) = a blanket term referring to online audiovisual services.MVPD (Multichannel Video Programming Distributor) = a service that provides users with a variety of television channels, such as cable or satellite television.TVOD (Transaction Video on Demand) = video on demand service where users pay for the consumption of each video.vMVPD (Virtual Multichannel Video Programming Distributor) = service that offers users a variety of television channels over the Internet.Sources:Oaks, R. (2021). What is Over-The-Air (OTA) TV? CableTV.com.Lahoz & Rodriguez, 2021. OTT Glossary: Programmatic Advertising. Tappcelerator Media SL.What is connected TV (CTV)? 2021. Oracle.com