The growing ecological impact of online video (streaming)

Streaming has grown exponentially in recent years. Streaming platforms such as Netflix, YouTube and Twitch have become essential to our digital uses. Yet behind this success lies a darker side: the environmental impact of online video is far from negligible.

Streaming, a growing part of digital broadcasting

According to the report “Climate: the unsustainable use of online video” published in 2019, online video accounts for 60% of global data flows and generates over 300 million tonnes of CO2 per year. By way of comparison, that’s as much as Spain’s CO2 emissions over one year!!

Online video is thus responsible for 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions due to digital. However, it is estimated that the digital sector as a whole emits 4% of the world’s greenhouse gases.

What’s more, digital energy consumption is increasing by 9% a year. Online video is following this trend, driven by the rise of streaming platforms and constant improvements in image quality.

Factors that increase the carbon footprint of video streams

Several factors explain why online video is so energy-intensive:

  • File size : a 10-minute Full HD video weighs around 250 MB. The increasingly widespread 4K and 8K formats explode the storage capacities required.
  • Video compression : the less a video is compressed, the higher its quality, but also the greater its weight. A fair balance must be struck between image quality and carbon footprint.
  • Network infrastructure : transporting videos via datacenters and broadcast networks generates significant energy consumption.
  • User equipment : the electricity consumption of televisions, smartphones and computers used to watch videos must also be taken into account.
  • Passive viewing : many videos are launched without being fully watched, generating unnecessary emissions.

The impact of streaming by device type

Not all equipment is equal in terms of the carbon footprint of streaming video.

According to a 2019 study, on a TV, one hour of wifi streaming worldwide generates around :

  • 65 g of CO2e in standard definition
  • 67 g in high definition
  • 71 g in ultra high definition

On a 4G smartphone, one hour of streaming represents :

  • Approx. 3 g CO2e in standard definition
  • 9 g in high definition

It can be seen that resolution has a more significant impact on the carbon footprint of smartphone streaming than on TV.

GAFAM’s ecological impact is difficult to assess

Digital giants such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft (GAFAM) are often singled out for their carbon footprint. Yet accurately assessing the ecological impact of their video streaming offerings is no easy task.

For example, a recent study reassessed Netflix’s energy consumption downwards, from 0.8 kWh to just 0.077 kWh per streaming hour.

However, based on 2 hours of daily viewing per subscriber, Netflix would still consume 94 TWh of electricity per year for all its subscribers worldwide. That’s well above Netflix’s estimate of 0.45 TWh per year…;

This example illustrates the difficulty of obtaining accurate data, as players have a vested interest in minimizing their carbon footprint.

What about the ecological impact of online video games?

Online video games are also growing by leaps and bounds. But what about their environmental footprint?

Here again, analyses differ. Some estimate that online video games consume 1% of the world’s electricity, others that this figure is greatly overestimated.

Several factors come into play:

  • The power of the consoles and PCs needed to run the games.
  • The cloud gaming infrastructure that enables games to be streamed directly.
  • The datacenters that host online multiplayer games.

However, the video game industry also has an interest in carefully analyzing its footprint in order to reduce it.

Towards greater digital sobriety in video use

Faced with this alarming situation, actions can be taken to minimize impact of digital video :

  • Regulate video streams : define a reasonable standard image quality, limit 4K/8K to compatible screens.
  • Fight against passive viewing : raise users’ awareness, introduce automatic breaks.
  • Improve platform design : offer audio readings, written summaries, etc.
  • Reinforce the eco-design of equipment : computers, smartphones, Internet boxes, Datacenters.
  • Develop decarbonized energy to power digital infrastructures.

Adopting more sobriety in our digital uses is essential to reducing our ecological footprint. In particular, we need to have more rational consumption of digital contents.

Adopt ephemeral file transfer to reduce your ecological footprint

Faced with the explosion of digital uses such as online video or video games, it is essential to adopt tools that allow to reduce their ecological footprint. Such is the case with FileVert.

Thanks to its high-performance IT infrastructure, FileVert makes it easy to send voluminous files while limiting its environmental impact. Unlike email attachments or conventional online storage, FileVert offers secure file sharing with automatic deletion;

It’s an efficient way to save energy and storage space, in an ethical and sustainable way. . By opting for ephemeral file transfer, we can all do our bit for a more sober and virtuous digital world.

Adopt a more sober digital lifestyle

Digital sobriety s’impose itself as THE solution to control the digital carbon footprint. It is up to us to collectively make the right decisions to ensure that these uses remain sustainable.

The streaming video craze is showing no signs of abating. Yet its environmental impact is already very significant, and is set to grow even further in the years to come.

Better control of video streams, more economical equipment and more responsible users are all necessary. Nor should video games be neglected.