Bandwidth Hogging: The Ugly Reality That Could Limit Streaming's COVID-19 Bonanza

On March 6, I reported in Digital News Daily about growing public awareness of the sustainability issues posed by the fossil fuels used by the data centers that power the huge amounts of data consumed by video streaming and other digital addictions.

Citing experts from a BBC Three documentary titled “Dirty Streaming,” the article noted that streaming accounts for three-quarters of the world’s internet use.

It added: “The boom in video watching that is being accelerated by the proliferation of new streaming services; widespread use of high-definition viewing that uses about four to five times as much energy as standard definition; the advent of 5G, and the growth of cryptocurrencies are all contributing to an acceleration of already-massive use of digital data, say the experts.”

At the time, while those in power in our government were aware that a pandemic was taking root in our country, the rest of us were largely still living in a bubble. So the implications of unrestrained data use for the media/entertainment, telecom and other industries involved seemed to be mainly the potential for a building backlash from consumers who care about our planet’s literal meltdown.



Two weeks later, with most businesses and nearly all live social interaction rapidly shutting down across our nation due to COVID-19, the implications of streaming’s unrestrained data consumption are exponentially more ominous — for our collective global welfare, as well as for the businesses counting on the continued growth of OTT and streaming for their success.

As if the looming threat of millions of deaths across the globe weren’t enough, governments (other than ours) are warning that internet infrastructures could be in danger of being overwhelmed by heightened consumption of OTT-delivered news and entertainment and social media interaction, combined with the sudden shift to conducting most business online, from home.

If internet infrastructures were to collapse or be seriously compromised, vital government health services functions, as well as commerce of all kinds, would be in even greater peril than they are right now.

When called upon to act by the European Union, Netflix agreed to cut its streaming bit rates by 25% in those countries — at least for 30 days — by defaulting to standard definition instead of high definition in most circumstances.

Google’s YouTube followed a day later — but again, only in the EU, for 30 days, for now. Also, YouTube will let users override the SD default if it doesn’t suit them, according to a SeekingAlpha report.

Meanwhile, what about the collective impacts on the internet of all the other video streaming services, including global top-10 brands like Amazon Prime Video and Hulu? And what about the outsized impacts of the U.S. market? What about other huge data-consuming markets, like India and China?

And what about the new and soon-to-launch streamers from huge corporate entities?

For instance, what about the four-month-old Disney+, which had amassed 28.6 million users as of Feb. 3, and has to date signed up 50% of all U.S. households with children under 10? As I noted in last week’s ATV Insider, Disney+ will now be among the biggest beneficiaries of the worldwide crisis, because of kids and working-at-home adults being forced to be shut in together 24/7.

The Walt Disney Company is already taking massive hits on the rest of its businesses because of the pandemic’s effects, so it will no doubt be loath to threaten the ray of hope represented by Disney+ by decreasing the SVOD’s transmission quality.

Yet, shouldn’t it already be clear that the corporately responsible thing to do now — not weeks from now, under duress — would be for all of these largest streamers to actually throttle back to SD around the globe, voluntarily, for as long as this pandemic is out of control?

And for gaming services to do the same?

In the past week, Verizon’s data show, U.S. video game usage during peak hours shot up 75%, video streaming rose 12%, and overall web traffic jumped nearly 20%.

“Although video streaming represents the lion’s share of residential internet traffic in Europe, interactive online gaming is a substantially greater threat in network overload terms,” Emma Mohr-McClune, tech service director at GlobalData, stressed in a release.Any mass-market spike in activity will have significant consequences for vital government and functions for markets in COVID-19 lock-down mode.”

In recent times, companies have talked ceaselessly about the critical importance of demonstrating social responsibility and building trust to compete and grow brands in today’s environment.

That was in the context of the world that existed a few months ago — a world that no longer exists, but is now in exponentially greater need of these companies’ willingness to actually walk the walk, and make short-term profits secondary to the dire needs of their consumers during this crisis.

The question now is: Will the major companies in media and other industries step up  — with the future of our world, as well as their organizations, in mind — and use the profits and cash they’ve accumulated thanks to massive U.S. tax breaks and other business-friendly circumstances to now help safeguard the physical and financial survival of those who use their services and products?

And if they don’t, how many consumers will be in a position to continue to pay for those services and products?

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