In the past few weeks, our work investigating Internet demand and streaming has had a lot of attention in the media. This comes after our paper ‘Streaming, Multi-Screens and YouTube: The New (Unsustainable) Ways of Watching in the Home’ (authored by Kelly Widdicks, Mike Hazas, Oliver Bates and Adrian Friday) was published and presented by Kelly at the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems this May.
The prominence of streaming, and the push for Internet infrastructure expansion to cope with the growth in demand, is important to consider due to the underlying energy impacts from the Internet infrastructure. Streaming accounts for perhaps 3% of global electricity demand, and is expected to grow further year-on-year. This growth is expected on broadband and fixed access networks, as well as mobile cellular networks (4G) which are particularly energy-intensive.
We investigated the prominence of streaming in everyday life through qualitative interview data with participants, alongside quantitative logs from wifi routers deployed into participants’ homes for one month. We uncovered new ways in which watching is becoming increasingly unsustainable, including: streaming is becoming the default way to watch, with broadcast TV access and DVDs becoming obsolete; and the increase in ‘multi-watching’, whereby households are simultaneously streaming content.
These findings gained an interest from the Environment Editor at the Sunday Times, Jonathan Leake. Through correspondence with Mike and Kelly, Jonathan wrote an article on our work ‘Energy used in streaming one film on Netflix makes 60 cuppas’. It was also picked up by Channel News in Australia and The Sun, among others. Following this, Kelly and Mike were interviewed by The Naked Scientists (article: ‘Video streaming habits affect electricity use’); the podcast created from this interview was aired on national radio BBC Radio 5 Live (Sunday 19th May) and ABC Australia Radio (Friday 24th May). Kelly and Mike participated in a live radio interview for BBC Radio Nottingham (aired the morning of Monday 20th May). And finally, we answered a list of written questions for IBC365, an online publication for the media and entertainment industry (article: `The real green screen: Is OTT putting pressure on the planet?’). We really enjoyed talking about our work to these wider audiences, and hope that awareness of the issue surrounding Internet demand will start to increase.
For readers who want to find out more, you can read Lancaster University’s press release (‘Research sheds light on UK’s new unsustainable viewing habits’) or access our paper via the DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300696.