Agile Content – How encouraging user engagement can help OTT companies decrease their ecological footprint
Johan Bolin, Chief Business Officer, Agile Content
As we approach the end of the summer, marked as the warmest ever recorded, it’s clear that focusing on the environment and sustainability is crucial for all organizations and businesses. The TV and media industry has a dual responsibility. On one hand, it’s crucial to provide the public with accurate information about the situation, and on the other hand, it’s equally important to address the sustainability impact of producing and distributing TV and video content.
According to a report released by the International Energy Agency in September 2022, transmission networks and data centers contribute to about 1% to 1.5% of the global electricity consumption and roughly 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Given that a significant share of the total internet traffic is video, it’s clear that TV and media organizations need to consider ways to reduce their environmental footprint.
Taking a closer look at the sources of these emissions, they can be grouped into three main categories: user devices, network infrastructure, and data centers. It’s worth noting that streaming consumes more energy compared to traditional broadcasting.
While optimizing the distribution chain is essential, an aspect that is sometimes overlooked is user devices and behavior. How can TV providers empower and engage users to collaboratively reduce the environmental footprint?
Engaging the users
When individual actions are multiplied across millions of users, they hold the potential to positively impact resource consumption and sustainability on a large scale.
Engaging the users begins with making their options and features more visible and accessible since they often remain hidden within the user interfaces. Simple yet impactful measures like upgrading devices (but not too often…), utilizing low-power modes during playback, using more efficient network technology, and enabling automatic shutdown after inactivity can create a noticeable difference. Additionally, making users conscious of and able to adjust the video resolution can lower data and, depending on the network, energy usage. It could also involve presenting options and illustrating how different choices influence the sustainability impact.
These options should be clearly visible and not buried in unintuitive menus. Setting up reminders to configure energy-saving preferences and offering straightforward guidelines for accessing and adjusting these settings can further guide users toward informed and sustainable choices.
Turning codecs into environmental allies
State-of-the-art codecs with a focus on compression-quality ratio can be a powerful tool in the hands of the users. By offering viewers the option to choose compression, they can select the format best suited to their device and optimally use a codec that is supported by the hardware as this will significantly reduce power consumption compared to software-based decoding. Codecs have a flip side though. If updating codecs requires too frequent device upgrades, the energy gains can be outweighed by the sustainability cost of producing new devices.
Cloud, virtualization and the benefits of shared resources
One of the biggest opportunities to lower the sustainability impact of TV and media is to embrace cloud and virtualization across the A/V pipeline. Moving applications from dedicated hardware to platforms that allow demand-based resource allocation and orchestration offers dual advantages. It enables multiple applications to share the production-related footprint and facilitates more frequent platform upgrades, backed by diverse applications and businesses. The transition to newer platforms generally leads to better performance per watt and size, contributing to a lowered sustainability impact.
Tracking the carbon footprint
To further strengthen their sustainability efforts, streaming companies could introduce advanced metrics to monitor the footprint. These metrics might involve tracking the footprint from the device, the network and the data center resources. By furnishing concrete data regarding the emissions generated during platform usage, users could gain a clearer understanding of the environmental impact of their digital consumption behaviors.
Additionally, making comparisons that illustrate how particular choices, such as skipping introduction and end, choice of network type like wired or wireless, choice of Internet Service Provider or even choice of streaming service can impact overall emissions would empower users to make more environmentally conscious decisions while using streaming services. This informed approach not only encourages users to optimize their network resource usage but also contributes to positive industry changes and an overall reduction in carbon footprint.
The danger of using energy as a sustainability proxy
In most environmental footprint models, energy consumption serves as a proxy. This is valid for comparing industries on a global level due to the prevalence of fossil carbon-based energy sources. However, when informing users in order to drive sustainability through their choices, this approach can be misleading. Energy sources vary across countries, regions, households, streaming services, and ISPs. A choice with a high carbon footprint cost for one user might incur a very low cost for another. Therefore, it’s essential to offer users accurate, specific information instead of assumptions or averages. This precision becomes crucial if we aim to harness user choices as a transformative force that rewards companies and providers for investing in more sustainable alternatives