Difference between OTT and IPTV

The big question is whether OTT (Over the Top) better than IPTV (Internet Protocol Television)? Will OTT replace IPTV? It is not fair to compare IPTV and OTT as there are lots of dissimilarities. Though OTT and IPTV share key commonality of using Internet as a content delivery mechanism. But they are widely different in the sense of quality of service, cost, ownership, quality of content, business model etc.

IPTV is a media content which delivers through the Internet by a privately managed network. IPTV providers offer Triple Play service and the package includes broadband internet video on demand services, VoIP for video chat and video.

IPTV services can be classified into 3 groups:

  • Video on demand (VOD): Browse catalog of videos, not related to TV programming
  • Time shifted television: Catch up TV that replays a show which was broadcasted days or hours ago, start over the TV that replays current show from the beginning
  • Live television: with or without interactivity related to the current show


OTT or over the top describes TV shows and content movies which are streamed through the Internet. In this case, the users don’t have to subscribe to satellite or a Cable TV Company. OTT is streamed through an unmanaged and standard network. It is the same network that web browsing and emails stream through. On the other hand, IPTV solutions travel through a private network for more consistent and better service. Some popular OTT services include Hulu and Netflix. Examples of OTT services launched by the service providers are Now TV by BSkyB and Dish Anywhere by Dish Network.

Some major differences between IPTV and OTT:


  • Open ecosystem, uses unmanaged network, open internet
  • works under best effort conditions, not guaranteed
  • Widely used for economical and freemium subscription VOD
  • Unicast(HTTP), Simulated multicast (UDP/TCP)
  • Complementary service
  • Easy to manage and operate, flexible model, low cost
  • Low quality service, non premium content, absence of live broadcast, unicast delivery model
  • Absence of DRM, typically not premium in nature because of security
  • Without the need for infrastructure investments or intervening carriage negotiations
  • Popular video on demand services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Sky Go, Hulu, Amazon LoveFilm, YouTube etc



  • Walled garden ecosystem, uses dedicated and managed network
  • Reliable, high quality network with control over quality of services
  • Used primarily for premium VOD and real time content delivery like broadcast TV
  • Multicast, initial unicast burst during the channel change that leads multicast join
  • Main service, similar to Cable TV/Satellite service
  • High quality of service. Interactive, monitoring and con troll services
  • Heavy investment in infrastructure and bandwidth, expensive
  • Premium content
  • Services are delivered on custom high and optimized bandwidth network
  • IPTV services like Prism TV( CenturyLink), U-Verse (AT&T)


Multicast is used in IPTV as transport of Linear TV content and saves bandwidth in the operator network. Most playback devices like PCs, tablets and phones would not support these proprietary technologies. While OTT is unicast traffic for on demand content and Linear TV. It uses adaptive streaming technologies like HLS from Apple. The adaptive streaming allows the client devices to adopt bandwidth/ streaming profile on current network conditions. It provides a good user experience in non optimal network conditions as well.

It may look like that IPTV has an advantage of tight control and over provisioned guaranteed bandwidth. It also has disadvantages. It is unable to serve the viewers who want to play content whenever and wherever they want. However, OTT delivered videos are becoming popular more. The operators who have deployed IPTV are adding OTT capabilities. Even emerging operators are bypassing IPTV and implementing OTT.

OTT is also used sometimes in TV cases where it offers on PC/ mobile devices. The term multiscreen is used many times. It means that the TV service is offered in other devices like PCs, tablets, and mobile phones. The term OTT is used for combination of devices where the content is delivered over the Internet.

Some Pros and Cons of OTT and IPTV:


  • Offers VOD services
  • High definition video streaming
  • Expensive compared to OTT but affordable in comparison to cable



  • Easy accessibility and allows the viewers to watch at home
  • Offers VoD services
  • Great range of providers to choose from
  • Low monthly prices
  • Content may not be available on OTT platforms
  • Sometimes content needs to buffer


Though these two have some slight differences, but one thing that is common is the way they store the downloaded media. OTT and IPTV services store previously streamed media and programming on servers. In this way, the customers can access the content whenever they want.

OTT content delivery enabled several new non-traditional players to establish, and compete with some traditional players like TSPs and CSPs. Though Over the Top service has gained subscribers, but it is still limited by the catalog and quality of content, offers and remains as complementary services to regular cable. May be, right now OTT is not so competent to replace or disrupt the incumbent service providers, but it holds great potential in the near future.

The OTT providers have an advantage of providing cheap service model without making any heavy investment associated with telecos TV and CSPs by harnessing revenue models leverages from existing network. It has provided a major boast towards convenience, freedom, greater choice, cost saving and empowerment to users. Over the Top has been instrumental in driving multi platform, multi screen content convergence and also a greater role for content providers/owners to have a direct relationship with the end consumers.