Before current advancements in technology, the availability of television programming such as shows, movies, news and live events was limited solely to TV sets. These days, anyone can watch television programming anywhere online via Internet-accessible technologies, and the overall scope of programming available to viewers seems nearly limitless when compared to options available locally through traditional television cable or satellite service providers.
Ad-Supported Network Sites
TV networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC and others have expanded their reach by offering new and archived (previous year or decade) programming on their websites. Typically, programs are free to site visitors, as they're supported by advertisements -- network ads for upcoming shows as well as product and service ads by network partner companies.
Subscription Network Sites
Subscription cable and satellite networks such as HBO and Showtime also offer online "On Demand" options. Unlike ad-supported offerings, viewers must have a subscription to the network through a television services provider to gain access to programming. Sometimes these networks will offer a free viewing experience in an attempt to gain new subscribers. The free offering is usually the first episode of a series edited to remove content that contains profanity or sex scenes.
General Entertainment Sites
Many general entertainment and multimedia companies offer general entertainment websites such as Hulu, Crackle, Netflix and YouTube Movies with free ad-supported and subscription new and archived television programming as well as Web-based TV-style shows and special programming not found elsewhere. Programming is available through partnerships with those who own the rights to the programming such as TV networks, film studios and media conglomerates.
Television Service Provider Sites
Cable television service providers also offer websites such as Comcast's Xfinity Online and AT&T's U-verse Online with ad-supported and subscription television programming. The sites are promoted as a bonus offering for current customers and a sampling of available cable and satellite services for potential customers to review.
Live Streaming Sites
Many websites online such as Ustream, Livestream and Justin.tv offer live streaming of television events including government proceedings and sports, as well as user-generated content. Government and other entities such as NASA and the UN also have their own sites featuring videos and webcasts. Some websites provide 24-hour access to live events and some provide access at a prescheduled time.
Typically, television programming found online is presented in thumbnail or list format and searchable by release date, alphabetical order or user-preference. Newer and archived programming may not be made available until the next day or as late as a month later, if at all, and may not include the entire season of a show or its entire run. Some websites offer users free accounts to create playlists of shows and movies to watch at any time and many offer videos of live events and webcasts as a convenience to those who can't watch the live broadcast.