In May, the Cologne Messe hosted ANGA COM. This annual event draws executives from around the world away from the comfort of their fibre-connected homes and offices to discuss connectivity and content in the flesh.
The halls of the Messe were awash with hardware and solutions providers, from cable and fibre laying machinery to customer premises equipment (CPE) hardware. With supply chain issues having eased, conversations pivoted away from navigating the storm toward the next bright spot on the horizon. But new concerns were permeating the show, with the environment, geopolitics, and the economic crisis featuring heavily throughout the event.
At their core, most conversations were about higher speeds, greater bandwidth and society’s insatiable appetite for data. But interestingly, conversations about sustainability stood in sharp contrast to this. This was particularly apt for a conference hosted in Germany, given the depth of the energy crisis felt by the country following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
A particularly vocal contribution came from the Greening of Streaming team. Its members presented on ANGA COM’s innovation stage to discuss its Low Energy Sustainable Streaming Accord, an initiative hoping to standardise video streaming energy efficiency practices. The group argues that streaming quality should default to ‘acceptable’ quality, as opposed to maximum video quality. This will help lower the environmental impact of video streaming, which, as was discovered at Futuresource’s own Audio Collaborative 2022 event, is significant. The organisation’s founder, Dom Robinson, spoke as part of Audio Collaborative 2022’s Sounding Out on Sustainability panel. To hear his insights, the full panel is available for free download here.
But at ANGA COM, a conference obsessed with increasingly speedy connectivity, the presentation certainly stood out, no doubt alarming some of the companies in attendance. Selling the latest and greatest network technology is a key strategy for many enterprises, in answer to the world’s supposed insatiable thirst for instant, high-quality content. The Greening of Streaming team put forward a simple but valid argument. Consumers don’t need ultra-high resolution at all times. As Dom Robinson put it: what do our children gain from watching Peppa Pig in 4K?
The Greening of Streaming’s presentation was well placed. Content delivery hardware vendors exhibiting at the show were increasingly focusing on IP and Hybrid TV provisions, enabling the streaming of high-resolution content to consumers. Plus, 4K resolution has become a standardised and affordable feature on TVs. More and more people own energy-hungry televisions, and with high-speed internet now the norm, consumers increasingly have the infrastructure to cater to it. Runaway video-based energy consumption is a very real possibility, often without the consumer’s knowledge. By making acceptable quality the standard, viewers can still choose high quality for the appropriate content.
It’s a solution that could make a big difference, but it’s not the only way to reduce the industry’s environmental impact. Sustainable practices can be implemented across the supply chain, but the somewhat controversial initiatives posed by the Greening of Streaming offer small, tangible steps to sustainability.
Sadly, a cross-industry agreement looks unlikely to materialise soon. While content providers, ISPs and other connectivity stakeholders continue to benefit from the high-quality content push, it will be tough to get an agreement over the line. But if energy bills remain high and video streaming platforms continue to place a burden on networks, a compromise on quality and energy consumption may be the only solution.
It’s inevitable that environmental practices will have to become a consideration for consumer electronics businesses. At Futuresource, we’re committed to discovering how sustainability will shape the future of these industries – and we’re continuing the conversation at Audio Collaborative 2023. Register your interest now.