What Is On Demand TV?

On-demand TV offers programming when the viewer is ready, not at a regularly scheduled time, like traditional TV. As of the date of publication, a variety of providers offer on-demand TV and movie programming, including HBO, DIRECTV, DISH Network and Netflix. On-demand programming requires viewers to subscribe to the providers’ services and can be enhanced through a variety of media, including computers, mobile devices and Internet-equipped TVs.

How It Works

On-demand TV requires a satellite or Internet connection for the content to be downloaded or streamed to your TV. Some on-demand providers, such as HBO On Demand, require subscription to its traditional programming, like what’s offered through a cable or satellite service provider, such as Comcast. These types of providers offer on-demand programming directly through the cable or satellite box. Other providers, such as DIRECTV, require a satellite converter box and an Internet connection to view on-demand programming. In these instances, the Internet connection facilitates the downloading of the content, while the converter box offers playback for viewing. Providers like Netflix offer streaming on-demand programming through an Internet-only connection.


While the majority of on-demand TV programming is facilitated through cable and satellite providers’ equipment and a TV, some, such as Netflix, offer on-demand services through other media such as video game consoles and mobile devices. Netflix’s on-demand TV service can be viewed through Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 game consoles. You can also view on-demand programming on mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, by downloading and installing specially designed applications.


On-demand TV providers offer programming from an assortment of genres, including drama, comedy, sporting events and romance. As the on-demand industry expands, providers regularly add new programs. For example, HBO On Demand adds more than 140 programs to its on-demand listings each Monday, including movies, children’s programming and TV shows. At the time of publication, on-demand providers offer vast collections of programs to choose from.


Some TVs are able to connect directly to the Internet through pre-installed Wi-Fi technology. These TVs are capable of downloading on-demand content directly to the TV where it can be viewed instantly. Some on-demand providers, such as DISH Network, lump their on-demand services with pay-per-view programming, which is similar to on-demand viewing, but is different in at least two major aspects. Pay-per-view programming requires viewers to tune in to a regularly scheduled time to see the programming, which is delivered through traditional means, such as satellite or cable signals.

About the Author

Lou Martin has been writing professionally since 1992. His work has appeared in the "Los Angeles Times," the "Long Beach Press-Telegram" and the "Deseret Morning News." Martin holds a Bachelor of Science in history and communication.