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Making Streams Green: The Steps to Sustainability in Broadcasting and Video Streaming

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Sustainability is changing the business landscape, and the broadcast and streaming sector is no exception. While business and technology factors used to be the main considerations when choosing a technology partner, now sustainability has become the third pillar that organizations simply cannot ignore.

Some of the most prominent investment organizations, such as BlackRock, now place sustainable investing at the forefront of business strategy, driven by the rise in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives. Assets of global sustainable mutual funds are expected to grow from just below $0.5tn in 2013 to total almost $2tn by 2028.

Increasingly, investors will refuse to consider any sort of investment that does not have a strong commitment to sustainability, and this is likely to become much more prominent in the next five years or so. Broadcasting and streaming companies therefore run the risk of losing substantial investment if they fail to pursue sustainable practices.

The Sustainability State-of-Play

The pressure for change is also coming from end users. Netflix announced its annual carbon footprint for 2020 in an ESG report, and the results made for surprising reading for many consumers. The streaming service provider generated roughly 1.1 million metric tons of CO2 last year, equivalent to the yearly emissions from approximately 240,000 passenger cars.

As consumers become more aware of the carbon impact of the organizations they buy from, they’re now more likely to turn to a greener alternative, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, research discovered that four in five consumers prefer to buy from sustainable sellers, and this is likely to extend to their choice of streaming services. While awareness is growing, the broadcast and streaming sector has so far made little progress from a regulatory standpoint, with little in the way of sustainability targets other than the general CO2 emission reduction objectives delivered at the governmental level.

The silver lining, however, is the green shoots of a sustainable association that are starting to sprout. Greening of Streaming, of which ATEME is a founding member, is a new association that brings together organizations in the streaming industry to share best practices and drive greater energy efficiency across the sector.

The onus now sits with broadcasters and streaming service providers on a global level to adopt sustainable practices within their processes and services to drive real change from within, and there are some key steps they can take to ensure this.

Ensuring Green Initiatives

With sustainability becoming a core element of organizational strategy, broadcasters and streaming service providers need to consider the carbon footprint associated with a streaming processing solution. They must also optimize processes to reduce the power consumption of hardware and software by implementing best practices.

Two things can help in the long-term to get the highest possible efficiency. One is the introduction of new codecs; the second is encoders using standards-compliant algorithms. Both can work together to reduce bitrate and bandwidth consumption. This will lead to a lower carbon footprint as less storage, streaming capability and caching is required. This strategy does, however, have immediate consequences. Deploying new codecs requires new devices, which has its own implications in terms of physical components and how this adds to carbon emissions. Organizations need to take additional steps to make an immediate difference.

The CDN and Shared Resources

Ten years ago, industry solutions were chosen mainly for their performance, such as how many channels could be produced on a given server for encoding and the content delivery network (CDN) hit ratio. While these performance criteria are still applicable and remain crucial to market competitiveness, meeting them also contributes to improving sustainability: it makes video delivery more efficient and less wasteful in the use of resources. A reduction in bitrate via improved compression techniques, for example, enables more channels on a single server, leading to reduced bandwidth consumption throughout the CDN. By also optimizing CDN caching, a greener service is facilitated.

An elastic CDN can also enable the system to bring the most popular content to the edge, away from the central hub, ensuring viewers get quick access to the content they most wish to see. While beneficial for viewers, this also means that the content will no longer need to be delivered from the central location. This helps to reduce the necessary bandwidth and costs, enabling more sustainable practices.

Shared workflows and resources, as well as just-in-time packagers, also contribute to reducing bandwidth requirements, thereby increasing sustainability. A single workflow can be used for both live and time-shifted video, meaning each profile only needs to be sent and stored once. Technology solutions allow broadcasters and streaming service providers to deliver content with just-in-time processing, ensuring content is processed only when it is needed by viewers. By producing on-demand, the need for hardware resources and CPU storage is reduced, leading to lower power consumption and increased sustainability of the service.

Contributing to the Battle Against Climate Change

Broadcasters and video service providers can ensure that their services become more sustainable by adopting an end-to-end solution that reduces storage, bandwidth and hardware requirements. This will result in significant energy savings across the three ‘Scopes’ as outlined by the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol, which highlights the importance of the environmental contributions of suppliers of video compression and streaming solutions. As the industry comes under greater scrutiny from investors and end users, making video delivery more sustainable means that organizations in the broadcast and streaming sector can play a significant role in the collective drive toward reduced carbon emissions, helping to mitigate the risks posed by climate change.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from Ateme. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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