How much does an hour of broadcasting on Netflix cost the planet?

It has become almost a reflex of 200 million subscribers worldwide and no less than 7 million in France. A free evening? We launch Netflix to entertain an on-demand series or movie. HD or 4K video content is stored on servers, passes through the content distribution network and then through your internet connection before being displayed on the screen. No need to buy a Blu-ray disc in a plastic box or travel miles to the movies: a few megabytes / s of physical broadcast suffice. But its energy bill isn’t trivial to the planet.

Like many digital giants in the environmental transformation / recovery process, Netflix recently revealed the global carbon footprint – greenhouse gas emissions due to fossil energy consumption – resulting from consulting its services. According to Director of Sustainable Development, Emma Stewart, “One hour of airtime in 2020 corresponds to an average of less than 100 grams of CO2-equivalent, or a 75-watt fan consuming for 6 hours.” More talk, a VOD watch, or episode and a half of your love series, is worth traveling 400 meters in a gasoline-powered car.

Collective tool and internal data

How did the platform arrive at this highly accurate data? At the start of the year, Netflix recalled DIMPACT, a computational tool developed over a decade by researchers at the University of Bristol. The heavyweight of video streaming introduced Carnstone, which markets a subscription to this super-calculator already in use by the BBC or private English channels to estimate its carbon footprint and identify avenues for improvement.

“Nobody should guess its environmental impact, so we are providing the know-how to measure it from our past experiences with other content distributors,” explains Daniel Chen, co-creator and professor of the tool. He joined the University of Bristol. He continues, “We are discussing with technical teams in a broadcasting organization to assess whether the element that should be taken into account is missing or not, and we arrive at a compilation of criteria for the parameters.”

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Based on its distribution model, Netflix has run its internal data into DIMPACT algorithms that take into account the power consumption of data centers, internet networks, and devices used to watch an episode while broadcasting. This resulted in an annual estimate covering hundreds of millions of service users, which then had to be divided by the number of hours viewed worldwide.

An indisputable result? The researcher from the University of Bristol insists that “the tool is based on our peer-reviewed university research and provides an algorithm that does not do the greenwash.” Before determination: The result and the data produced are the property of the company that uses it, which can decide whether or not to publish it. “

Realistic result

So we presented these results to several experts on this topic. “It doesn’t seem to me that the order of volume given is skewed,” says Maxime Efoui-Hess, The Shift Project, who has produced numerous studies on the carbon footprint of digital technology, especially flow. “The environmental impact is really low per hour of streaming, but Netflix subscriber volume ultimately increases the energy bill,” he notes.

The research manager of a large Internet service provider (ISP) – who prefers to remain anonymous – considers the number “somewhat reliable”, because “among the last evaluation of the transformation project that measures an hour of flow equivalent to 200 grams of carbon dioxide andA recent analysis by the International Atomic Energy Agency That puts it at 18 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent. ”He added,“ The carbon footprint calculated at the global level could be lower in France thanks to its more carbon-free nuclear energy. This is important to bear in mind because Netflix accounts for a quarter of French internet traffic.

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Too much for airtime, the last step, but what about the carbon footprint of sealed Netflix series and movie sessions? ” at Our approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the end of 2022And the We’ve taken into account the weight of all of our content whether we’re running it or not, “Netflix’s sustainability director Emma Stewart assures us. This means a reduction in all imaging levels such as transportation, gasoline or electricity consumed but also equipment, sets and fashion. Not forgetting the post-production effect and the special effects, ”the director predicts.“ We cannot change the industry on our own, so we will work with our suppliers to develop less energy-intensive technologies and better production habits, ”she promised.

“Netflix now has serious data about its carbon footprint but it will only be useful if it is shared internally to improve practices and also with its suppliers and audiovisual production industry who have to incorporate it into their specifications,” defends Jean-Marc Lazard, president of OpenDataSoft, a startup that helps companies to Improve its data. “This will not only become a lever for action for the environment, but also in the interest of companies that will be able to save money,” he envisioned.

Maxime Efoui-Hess of The Shift Project adds: “If they want to do a complete carbon footprint, we also have to consider the production of terminals like televisions and smartphones that read content on.” It concludes that “at least an hourly carbon footprint number has the advantage of demonstrating the individual impact of our actions and sparking a collective debate about the environmental cost of entertainment.”

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