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Netflix to Net-Zero: Broadpeak championing green streaming, cut energy & carbon footprint

By Loewe Tan

Sustainability goals are on top of many countries’ agenda, leading to more media companies hopping on to the bandwagon to go green, including streaming giant Netflix. However, the initiative is still frowned upon in some quarters as it requires vast investments to change current operations practice, resulting in more OPEX as well as CAPEX. 

Drawing on findings from DIMPACT, a collaborative project Netflix is part of, and which studies digital carbon impacts, Emma Stewart, Sustainability Officer at Netflix, shared that streaming one hour of Netflix content equates to driving a gasoline car for a quarter mile.

She added, “Our 2020 carbon footprint was 1,100,000 metric tons. Roughly half (50%) of that footprint was generated by the physical production of Netflix-branded films and series, whether we manage them directly (The Midnight Sky), or through a third-party production company (Our Planet and You vs. Wild). 

“It also includes content we license that is Netflix-branded, like My Octopus Teacher and Down to Earth with Zac Efron. The remainder (45%) comes from our corporate operations, like the offices we lease, and purchased goods like our marketing spend.

“Also, we use cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and the Open Connect content delivery network to stream our service. These account for 5% of our footprint.

“We don’t include emissions from internet transmission or electronic devices our members use to watch Netflix. Internet service providers and device manufacturers have operational control over the design and manufacturing of their equipment, so ideally account for those emissions themselves.”

Hence, Netflix plans to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emission by the end of 2022, aligning with the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C, and has given rise to a new trend in the broadcast and media industry – green streaming.

How to achieve green streaming?

One of the lower hanging fruits is to reduce activities with high power consumption. For instance, data centres are known to consume a lot of energy, due to the need to cool multiple servers. Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), a multinational semiconductor company, offers EPYC processors for data centres to reduce servers by up to 33%, thus lowering energy consumption by 32%.

Broadpeak, a video delivery solution provider, is championing the green cause by separating power consumption from the number of viewers. Through the offering of multicast adaptive bitrate (ABR) solutions, only one single stream is required to stream the same content to a million people, in the process reducing capacity needs and energy consumption. 

Furthermore, Broadpeak offers dynamic content delivery network (CDN) components to virtualise and containerised content delivery, empowering cache server workloads to be activated when required and to share the infrastructure with other networks and functions. With cache nodes becoming more dynamic, power consumption is only used when required. 

Broadpeak also drives the SVA Open Caching initiative that facilitates the pooling of multiple content providers to delegate CDNs to the same network operator. By doing so, content providers do not have to deploy their own cache, reducing power consumption. 

Viaccess-Orca, a member of Orange Group and provider of video solutions, condenses green streaming into three steps: Measure, Optimise and Empower.  

According to Alain Nochimowski, Chief Technology Officer, Viaccess-Orca: “We need to assess the impact of different architecture designs destined to run in data centres and how data is handled across the whole chain in order to present customers with an optimal, sustainable solution.”

However, there are trade-offs for green streaming. Elaborating on the Optimise step, Nochimowski said, “The optimisation stage asks whether for a same ‘perceived’ Quality of Experience (QoE), is there a more environmentally friendly way to stream? 

“For example, when we look at video codecs and formats, will the expected gain in network bandwidth usage that we can associate with next-generation codecs (and related reduction in energy consumption as a result) offset the increase in energy consumption used by their more CPU-intensive compression techniques? 

“Or does it just shift the problem from one point in the chain to another?

“Another angle is to look at how unicast architectures compare to multicast architectures. We’ve done some work with that as part of the NESTED (New vidEo STandards for Enhanced Delivery) collaborative project, which suggests that the use of multicast-broadcast technologies can significantly reduce energy consumption at the endpoint.”

After completing the steps in a sequential manner, Viacess-Orca hopes to empower users with knowledge of their power consumption, allowing them to create their own impact in decreasing their carbon footprint. 

Incorporating sustainable or green practices within an organisation goes beyond ethical decisions. Major corporations and investors are evaluating the environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) practices of their partners, before going into business with them.

Clearly, while the concept of green streaming is still at the infancy stage, it is an achievable goal for many organisations to aspire towards.
Join me at IBC2022, which is taking place from 9-12 September at the RAI Amsterdam, to find out more about how the broadcast and media industry can go green and fight climate change.

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