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When the television was invented, viewers had to wait for their favorite programs to air according to the schedules decided by the networks and were out-of-luck if they missed a part of a program unless it was shown as a re-run. Even in the last decade with the advent of digital video recording systems (DVR), consumers have been limited in their control over when to watch their TV, how many shows they could record at once, and how many recordings they could store on their recording devices at any time.

In the last few years however, the explosion of new technologies relating to the internet and the storage of data have fundamentally changed the balance of who controls when they watch television and movies. Internet Television, dubbed “streaming,” is available through a number of video service companies, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, and provides full access to and control of thousands of shows and movies across decades of programing from multiple networks and studios.

How does Internet Television work?

Anyone with a computer and a reliable internet connection can stream. Each streaming video company holds contracts with a number of different networks and movie studios, paying them a yearly fee in exchange for permission to provide their customers on-demand access to a diverse and extensive portfolio of TV shows and movies. Consumers can watch anything from the newest shows, to old favorites, to shows that went off the air years ago.

Using a streaming service:

It’s easy.  Consumers can sign-up for the service they want simply by registering with a username and password. Credit card information is entered, in the same way that one would pay for an item when shopping online. The consumer agrees to be charged an automatic, standard monthly fee, ensuring membership until terminated, in accordance with the services’ terms and conditions listed on their websites. Because of the customers’ fees, streaming video services don’t have to rely on advertisers’ commercials to pay for their programing, making it possible to provide their programing commercial free. Further, because of the success of the internet television business model, streaming video services have developed a wide-range of original programming available only to their customers.

Is streaming safe?

Streaming technology does not download any new data to a consumer’s personal computer, eliminating the threat of accidentally downloading a virus or malware. Instead, streaming acts more like a projector, beaming the video to your screen over the internet without adding any new files to one’s hard drive. Another advantage of streaming technology is its benefit on storage space. With streaming technology, the thousands of television shows and movies are stored on the streaming company’s servers so consumers can watch what they want without being limited by the computer’s storage space. And for parents who are concerned streaming video services would expose their children to inappropriate programming, the streaming companies even allow for the creations of multiple age settings for user profiles and the setting of parental controls, ensuring access only to approved programing.

Of course anytime personal information such as a credit card number is shared, the consumer is at risk of that information being hacked or accidentally released. Be sure to use a secure site and monitor your bank accounts.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education.

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