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Investigating the energy use of video delivery and consumption 2022-2027

It appears that our industry is at a turning point when it comes to the energy use required for video distribution and consumption across the world. The decline of pay TV – cable in particular – and its power-hungry network infrastructure means that for the past few years, the energy consumption of video overall has been tapering downwards.

However, a rise in OTT video consumption means that streaming infrastructure is scaling up, while viewing is fragmenting across a broadening range of consumer electronics. Both trends are creating demand for energy that has already overtaken that of pay TV networks, and will soon begin to reverse the downward slope of the current global energy requirements for video distribution and consumption.

By 2027, we expect that total energy consumption of our industry is set to start ticking back up, fueled by OTT viewing and the subsequent behaviors that it encourages. This is largely driven by the current OTT viewing paradigm of unicast delivery. Much greater efficiencies could be achieved with the embrace of multicast, as well as more efficient caching technologies.

It is important to outline our reasons for undertaking this project, which undoubtedly falls outside of the traditional scope of Rethink TV. This report arrives at a time when sustainability is becoming an unavoidable consideration for companies in the video industry, regardless of their size or status. Pressures from regulators, and consumers demanding more sustainable approaches, are making stakeholders of all shapes and sizes prove their commitment to the cause.

Of course, it has not always been this way. Those at the heart of network infrastructure – hardware OEMs and operators – have had economic incentives to keep their spend on energy consumption in internal networks at a minimum, but many other stakeholders have been able to offload that responsibility elsewhere. Furthermore, video has only recently been considered as a huge drain on global energy consumption, in large part due to its fragmented systems of distribution and its intangible presence in the lives of most consumers. The average consumer is often still surprised to hear that streaming creates any notable dent in energy consumption on a global scale.

With pressures mounting, it is often a game of hot potato, to pass the responsibility of energy consumption around the ecosystem so that each stakeholder can relieve itself from scrutiny. This is where independent, third-party estimations of energy consumption come in useful. While we are not privy to all the data that one individual stakeholder might hold regarding its energy consumption, we also have no reputations to protect. Our hope is that this report will merely be Rethink TV’s introduction into the world of sustainability within video, provoking conversation and contributions from across the ecosystem by the next time we refresh this model. As the title suggests, this first report is simply an ‘investigation’ into energy consumption, and not a definitive reading as other initiatives like Greening of Streaming are trying to achieve.

Although carefully considered, the model was constructed with broad strokes in a high-level manner. We hope that in the spirit of sustainability being a universal issue, our future work
on the subject will involve active contributions from the industry. This is an attempt to answer a question that our clients ask us recently – “what is the environmental impact of
the video industry?” Rethink  Technology Research

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