The difference between Live Streaming TV and On Demand TV

There are a lot of options for streaming video services, and each one is a bit different

The number of acronyms and terms used in the streaming and cordcutting circles can make cutting the cord seem elaborate. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Like any tech solution, descriptors pop up as a shorthand. The terms allow us to sort the many streaming solutions into categories and compare them to like products. Get to know the differences between Live Streaming TV services and a service that offers On Demand TV, and you’ll be one step closer to cutting the cord.

Timing is everything

The main difference between the two types of service is timing. Think of it this way; Live TV viewers scroll through whatever content the service chooses and select a program in progress. It’s very much like a traditional television or cable TV experience. When you turn it on, you surf up/down channels to find a program to watch that is already in progress.

In contrast, on demand TV has a library of titles that viewers can browse before selecting one to watch. You log in to the service or app and click on a title to start it. You can pause, stop, and resume it at your leisure. One on demand service you are likely familiar with is Netflix.

So, timing is the biggest element separating the types of service. There are also other differences, like content, price, available languages, and more.

Services by Type

Of course, with any rule comes exceptions. Some of the services offer on-demand and live streaming TV content. Here are examples of brand names you may recognize assigned to a service type:

What’s showing

Live Streaming TV services, like Sling TV, Hulu Live TV, and YouTube TV, are the ones you would likely choose to replace your cable TV provider. You’re less likely to see newly released movies or original content on Live Streaming TV. The provider curates and arranges programs in an order that is most likely to attract viewers, so you get a broad variety of channels with content showing 24/7. Typically there are more channels to choose from, and all of them show advertising.

On demand TV services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, allow you to select a specific show or movie from a library. These providers spend billions to amass a portfolio of shows, movies, and more. The content is stored in a cloud, available for each user to select start watching from the beginning at any time. There is typically limited or no advertising on these channels. On demand services often specialize in a type of content – Shudder shows a curated collection of indie and classic horror and psychological thriller movies.

Subscription price

Philo is the most affordable multichannel live TV streaming service on the market, coming in at only $16/month. Philo doesn’t carry sports, news, or local broadcast channels like most of the bigger streamers. The basic set of 37 channels is $16 per month. The 46 channel lineup adds MTV Live, American Heroes Channel, Cooking Channel and more for $20 per month. The skinny service is backed by networks A&E, AMC, Discovery, Scripps, and Viacom. The investors put a combined $25 million into the business and opened up their content libraries for on-demand content and live broadcasts.

Pluto TV is the perfect live streaming service if you want to surf channels and watch what’s showing. One hundred channels of live news, movies, TV shows, and it’s absolutely free. Content changes frequently and is arranged into genre-based channels. Pluto TV streams live content accessed through an app or website.


HBO Now allows subscribers to access HBO’s entire library of original content, as well as films, and documentaries from content partners. HBO Now doesn’t include access to live streaming programming on HBO’s linear cable channel. It costs $14.99 per month and can be downloaded from providers like Roku, Amazon Channels, or subscribed to directly.

Kanopy is an on-demand streaming platform that features a large collection of award-winning films and documentaries free to members of subscribing libraries. In the same way that libraries enrich people’s lives with books, the Kanopy service gives access to films that inspire, enrich, and challenge perspectives. If your library offers the service to members, log in and stream commercial-free content.

In-language options exist for both types of service

Sling TV is a live TV streaming service with two packages of about 40 channels from which to choose. On either the Orange or the Blue plan, you can add the optional Best of Spanish TV Extra package for $5/month for 20 Spanish language programming channels. Although both the Orange + Spanish and Blue + Spanish plans give you access to Spanish language channels, Orange includes ESPN Deportes. Blue includes Universo, ¡Hola!TV, estrellaTV, History en Español, de Pelicula, CineLatino, and more.

Univision NOW is a streaming service that includes on-demand and live sporting events, specials, and series. Subscribers can watch hundreds of primetime and library shows on demand, or catch up on the past three days of broadcast. Viewers also have access to live stream the broadcast. The Total Access plan includes live streams of Univision and UniMás and to all of the on-demand content for $7.99/month. The Collection plan gives you access to a limited library of shows including novelas, dramas, and comedies for $2.99/month.


Don’t let the acronyms and terms used to describe different streaming services stop you from making the decision to cut the cord. There are a lot of options for services, and each one is a bit different. That’s the beauty of cutting the cord. You can piece together a combination of services that works just right for you. Now that you know the difference between Live Streaming TV services and a service that offers On Demand TV, you can find the content you want at the price point you need.

Megan Southard


Article Author

Megan Southard is a writer, mom, technology enthusiast, and movie junkie. She dreads the day her kids have to explain gadgets to her and is old enough to say, "I was the remote for our TV growing up.

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