Sustainability and the green agenda are at the top of our minds these days, not least because of rising energy prices and concerns that environmental targets are not being met.
The recent Cop27 certainly provided food for thought on the challenges that lie ahead. Although the UN climate summit achieved some successes, providing poor countries for the first time with financial assistance known as loss and damage, there is broad consensus that the world’s biggest economies must make fresh commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s an opportune time to take a look at the impact that content everywhere has on the environment, and what measures Content Everywhere companies are taking to mitigate the impact of the increase in streaming services.
As explained by Bleuenn Le Goffic, VP strategy and business development at Accedo, the huge influence that the video industry has on both society as a whole and the environment makes sustainable business transformation an important challenge to address.
“Content-measured influence is increasingly a top concern for content providers. There have been successful initiatives from BBC, Netflix and other leaders who are connecting entertainment with important messages on sustainable change, this can be seen in content such as Don’t Look Up and BBC Earth. These projects are a hit with audiences, but they are also a catalyst for sustainable social movements. Technology and solution providers also need to do their part, to drive change and contribute to the next generation of sustainable video services,” Le Goffic says.
Lizzie Lawrence, head of marketing & sustainability lead at M2A Media, further notes that the live sports market is currently seeing huge growth, “and with this comes an environmental impact”, she says, citing research that shows streaming services globally have a carbon footprint comparable to the aviation industry.
Collaboration is key
Collaboration will be crucial if Content Everywhere companies are to achieve environmental targets such as reducing energy consumption and driving down emissions, as well as creating new standards that will underpin sustainable business.
Le Goffic highlights industry-specific organisations such as Greening of Streaming, Humans not Robots and DIMPACT, “which are all contributing to moving the industry in the right direction”.
She says video companies must prioritise these and other initiatives in order to assess their current impact and join the global journey towards sustainable business models.
We need to focus on quick fixes that cut energy, such as turning off servers that are not being used. While this sounds simple, we are still very far from achieving even this basic activity! - Marc Baillavoine, Synamedia
“This includes the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), a framework that drives ambitious climate action in the private sector by enabling organisations to set science-based emissions reduction targets,” she says.
According to Le Goffic, once organisations are equipped with a structure to measure and report, they can start to accurately assess their carbon budget. “Usually, the big spends in this area are linked to suppliers. In the case of video, it will certainly be important to optimise the full value chain of the video distribution, to maximize carbon reduction,” she adds.
Other initiatives are being established on an ongoing basis. At IBC, Accedo announced the launch of its sustainability initiative, which is aimed at supporting its customers in their journey towards building more sustainable video businesses.
Le Goffic says the company intends to work with service and technology providers globally to define industry standards for delivering sustainable video services, and drive experiments to accelerate and achieve sustainable transformation across the video industry.
“As part of this, we plan to launch a sustainable marketplace for media by 2025. This will enable video service providers to make buying decisions based not only on product features, but also sustainable KPIs,” she says.
Lawrence indicates that M2A has carried out R&D into the optimisation of cloud workflows and has taken part in the industry-wide IBC Accelerator trial ‘Sustainability in a Live Production’.
“We also disclose our environmental data to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), to help our broadcaster customers understand the impact of their own supply chain,” she says.
However, M2A needed to formalise its sustainability approach and set targets it could work towards collectively across the business.
“As such we created a Sustainability Steering Committee, which comprises representatives from business operations, product, finance and communications. As a first step the Committee was responsible for submitting our application to the DPP Committee to Sustainability programme, for which we were proud to receive top marks,” Lawrence says.
- Read more Sustainability concerns in media
Bart Lozia, CEO of Better Software Group (BSG), says his company always strives to include green initiatives “to make our offices not only a space for brainstorming or coming up with new solutions, but also a place to learn from each other and have a positive impact on our industry and our planet at the same time. We take part in many initiatives and charity events to emphasise the importance of the mindful approach toward sustainability.”
Meanwhile, Dara Urquhart, chief operations officer at Red Bee Media, notes that in recent years her company has “significantly invested in developing our IP-based platforms with a media-centric private cloud and sustainability as one of its core features.”
“We work in a hybrid way, using both public and private cloud technologies. Using private cloud platforms within our datacentres has increased the efficiency of related power consumption. For example, fewer single-task appliances consume power yet run idle, reducing the direct power draw per system function. In addition, private cloud infrastructure is denser than appliance-based deployments, allowing us to use more concentrated cooling in smaller spaces, and reducing the secondary power consumption of our technical environments,” Urquhart says.
She adds: “These are noticeable improvements, but the remaining challenge we are equally focused on is understanding our carbon emissions in order to effectively target and measure tangible improvements, either internally at Red Bee Media or indirectly via our suppliers and partners.”
Marc Baillavoine, senior director of product management at Synamedia, notes that one of the biggest challenges is that energy consumption spans different entities, “so a decision taken in one part of the workflow can lead to huge variations in energy consumption in other parts of the workflow”.
For example, HDR does not require any additional energy for encoding, but causes a more than 20% increase in energy consumption on the TV, Baillavoine remarks.
He also points to the need for collaboration. “Measuring energy consumption requires all third parties involved in video streaming, including cloud providers, to report their data in a consistent way for comparison. You can only start developing standards when you understand how each part of the workflow impacts the entire ecosystem. That’s precisely what organisations such as Greening of Streaming are working on,” he says.
Le Goffic agrees. “We can only make a real impact if the entire value chain contributes. Some infrastructure providers have the capacity to accelerate the environmental transformation needed. AWS, Google, and Microsoft are responsible for a large share of the software being sold and as a result can influence its design. These organisations will play a key role in incorporating reduced energy consumption into industry best practices. These are not long-term goals; the changes are already in progress and will hopefully result in rapid progress.”
First steps, and the need for standards
As highlighted by Le Goffic, one of the biggest challenges right now is that it can be extremely overwhelming for companies to know where to start.
“Any video company looking to begin this journey needs to remember that doing something is already good and that there are loads of others who are on the same journey. Sustainability encompasses so many things so companies should start by analysing each aspect of the business and prioritising what is deemed most relevant, which will vary from one business to the next,” she advises.
Le Goffic notes that it is also important to measure and assess the current impact of the business. “This doesn’t need to be done in isolation; working collaboratively can bring many benefits. Once this is done companies need to establish meaningful and evidence-based targets and agree on the actions required to meet them. It is vital to engage stakeholders in the business ecosystem so that they contribute positively and make the sustainability strategy possible.”
Lawrence says M2A’s immediate challenge is to ensure effective implementation of its policies to achieve its goal of becoming a net zero organisation by 2026.
“We also hope to support our customers’ sustainability goals, by helping them to optimise their use of the cloud through the right-sizing of workloads and efficient design. If we are to affect change we will need to come together as a whole; from suppliers to broadcasters and rights-owners to consumers, in order to increase awareness of the environmental impact of video streaming and to encourage transparency,” Lawrence adds.
Baillavoine says that as the industry still lack standards, “every vendor should be quizzed about their sustainability roadmap and asked how they are reducing their carbon footprint, particularly as this year’s energy price increases are forcing people to realise that consuming less resources cuts costs. I believe consumers are now ready to accept paying a higher price for their streaming service if the service reduces CO2 emissions.”
Until standards emerge in the next two to five years, “we need to focus on quick fixes that cut energy, such as turning off servers that are not being used. While this sounds simple, we are still very far from achieving even this basic activity!”
BSG’s Lozia notes that better compression allows more or higher quality content, but requires more computational power. Rolling out the latest codec is complex and H.264 is expected to remain the minimum common dominator codec for at least another ten years, he adds.
“At BSG we partner with leaders in the market regarding streaming distribution and players. They are enabling us to drive the change in lowering the carbon footprint by going into better codecs like MPEG-5 LCEVC, and cutting of unneeded profiles from the streaming,” he says, noting that LCEVC “saves 50% on bitrate and up to 70% on computational power and is backward compatible with older devices”.
Urquhart from Red Bee Media says the company has been actively working on a power consumption and carbon emissions framework at its media hubs in the United Kingdom over the past 12 months.
“We’ve been identifying our customers/services and when looking more in detail at each television channel or even exact hours of live subtitling. Working with different data points has allowed us to derive a meaningful measure. Once a measure exists, we can target reduction and fine-tune the accuracy of the data over time. By having a baseline from 2021, we can then compare carbon emissions between our old and new technologies,” she says.
However, Urquhart notes that establishing a baseline isn’t easy. “At Red Bee, we are signed up to our parent company’s [Ericsson] climate action programme and are committed to supporting them in halving their carbon emissions by 2030, along with the publishing of our targets and progress. We also ask our key suppliers to share this ambition; over 50% have signed up so far, and we will seek to increase this to 83% in 2023. We work with our suppliers to provide guidance and support in helping them achieve these targets. But, for most, the challenge is the same – understand what their current CO2 footprint is.”
She adds: “The availability and granular details of source data could be more consistent and ideal, but all organisations have to start somewhere. We’re proud that we have started this journey and are actively supporting our suppliers. At the same time, we acknowledge that this is just the beginning.”
Meanwhile, Baillavoine warns that the industry should avoid any efforts at greenwashing and “ensure sustainability does not become just another buzzword.”
“Carbon footprint is a multi-faceted problem which is very complex to capture, understand and analyse. There may be some quick wins, for example by turning off unused resources and reducing the bitrate, but large gains will only come with long-term cooperation and strategy,” he says.
Le Goffic concludes: “Ultimately, we need to remember that we are all working towards a shared goal. The video industry needs to come together, put aside competition, and collaborate to make the entire industry more sustainable.”