In 2021, streaming is more important than ever in our daily lives. While this is a big step forward in the entertainment industry, it does have some consequences in terms of energy consumption. That's what we'll look at here.
Streaming: a new mode of consumption to watch
The rise of the stream
It is now inevitable that the dematerialized content is submerging the audiovisual sector. In the space of a few years, the market has evolved at a crazy speed, gradually putting aside physical media to make way for a new mode of consumption: the streaming. In return for a monthly subscription, it is possible to have access to almost unlimited content in a few clicks thanks to the magic of the internet. This started with music with the arrival of platforms like Deezer and Spotifythen video games with the platform Steamand finally the films and series that the giant Netflix quickly became its own. Today, it is estimated that the streaming represents about 80 % of global web traffic.
The energy constraints behind streaming
It is true that streaming is a real revolution that makes entertainment accessible to everyone and everywhere, but it has a energy cost that should not be underestimated. Indeed, the content proposed in streaming is not without consequences for the environment. The fact of being able to enjoy on-demand content that is not limited by the hardware aspect necessarily encourages more consumption. This implies a larger amount of data to store and therefore more dedicated infrastructures, which are largely powered by fossil fuels. To give you an idea, data centers consume about 2 % of the world's electricity and produce as much CO2 as air traffic. These figures will undoubtedly increase in a few years.
The energy consumption of streaming: what is it really like?
Data that is difficult to evaluate
Several studies have been conducted to try to estimate what streaming represents in terms of energy consumption. Although it is possible to come up with some results, they should be taken with a grain of salt. There are indeed many factors to consider for the elaboration of such statistics, starting with the type of content which can be a music, a movie or a game. Then, you have to take into account the type of digital media of the user (smartphone, TV, PC), the type of connection (3G, 4G, Wifi) or the type of definition (SD, 4K). This is why the results vary from one study to another with sometimes big differences.
Average consumption remains modest
Since it is difficult to get concrete data for the energy consumption of streaming as a whole, we will focus on the biggest branch: video streamingwhich represents 60% of traffic in France. For this, we will refer to the study conducted by the IEA (International Energy Agency) which seems to be the most reliable. In this study, we learn that the carbon equivalent for 30 minutes of streaming on Netflix is about 0.018 kgCO2e. In other words, this is approximately equivalent to 100 meters by car. This is already more reassuring than a first study conducted by the Shift Project which indicated 0.197 kgCO2e. A study that has since been deemed irrelevant due to certain analytical errors.
The energy challenge of streaming
Although the energy impact of streaming is still relatively low to date, the issue remains crucial. There are more and more consumers on the market and it's not about to stop. Simple observation, Netflix has just passed the 200 million subscribers mark in 2020, against 167 million in 2019. Knowing that the digital sector is already responsible for 3.7 % of total greenhouse gas emissionsthere is cause for concern. Recently, big market players like Netflix and Google have committed to using a 100% green electricity. Will this be enough to meet the energy challenges? Nothing is less certain. In the meantime, you can always act for the environment by limiting your personal expenses. To help you, don't hesitate to calculate your electricity consumption.