We are all familiar with statistics about the growth of the internet. Cisco’s latest report, for instance, says that global IP traffic is increasing at 26% a year, and will reach 4.8 zetabytes a year by 2022. The number of connected devices will be three times the world’s population by the same date.
There is a nice chart in the Cisco report: in 1992 the global internet traffic was 100 gigabytes a day, by 2022 it will be 150,700 gigabytes – a second. And of all that traffic, video will make up 82% of the total. Internet video traffic will have grown four-fold from 2017 to 2022, a staggering 33% a year.
But here’s a different view. According to KTH, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, the internet now uses 10% of the world’s total energy consumption. Its best case scenario sees the internet consuming 2547 terawatt hours; worst case 3422 terawatt hours a year by 2025 – 25% of the world’s power.
The internet’s data centres alone may already have the same CO2 footprint as air travel. You could, of course, argue that the internet is removing the need for some business travel, which really only means that the situation could be even worse.
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies depend upon very large numbers of computers “mining”. This is such a nebulous industry that it is hard to get a hold of it, but sources suggest it involves more power consumption than a country like Ireland.
Greenpeace has a campaign called #ClickClean. You can download a pdf of its report, which in itself is slightly self-defeating. It grades online services on how responsibly it sources its power: YouTube gets a shiny grade A; Netflix a very lowly D. Facebook Messenger is a green A; Twitter is an F, failing on every category and relying on coal and gas for two-thirds of its energy.
As far back as 2016 – and three years is a geological age in the digital era – Berkeley Labs estimated that data centres would need more than 100 terawatt hours a year by 2020 which is the equivalent of 10 large nuclear power stations. In 2016, media specialist economist Josh Stinehour said that to move all US television to the internet would need another 5.5 gigawatts of power just for delivery – six more nuclear power plants.
Broadcasting is the energy efficient model. The terrestrial antenna that serves my home in the north-west of England has six transmitters, each of 10kW, or around half a gigawatt hour a year to reach 6.3 million people. Satellite television is even more energy efficient, with uplinks measured in small numbers of kilowatts and solar power on the satellite. But you have to set that against the environmental cost of putting the satellite in geostationary orbit in the first place.
Two US universities have been monitoring the way that AT&T handles video streams, and has conclusive evidence that YouTube is throttled 74% of the time; Netflix 70%. T-Mobile throttled Amazon Prime 50% of the time. I can’t find any reliable reports of throttling outside of the US, although that does not mean it is not happening.
Broadcasters make relatively transparent decisions on what quality they want to deliver to the consumer, and everyone gets the same service. Streamers do not have control over the delivery pipeline and are at the mercy of telcos who manage speed and reliability. Streaming is very expensive for telcos, as well as being desperately un-green.
Despite all of this, we seem to be rushing headlong into an online society, where all social contact is moderated through media channels. Which does not explain one of the biggest phenomena of our time: the convention.
ComicCons, where fans dress up as their favourite fantasy characters, have been with us for some time, of course. They are now being joined by BeautyCons, SneakerCons and general OnlinepresenceCons. Those who have become famous for being online are now being lined up for lucrative personal appearances in hotel ballrooms and business centres.
SneakerCon – yes, it is about shoes – grew from 1000 attendees in New York a decade ago to more than 100,000 people at events in 18 different countries this year. If you are interested, the London event will set you back £33 for a two-day pass.
Bringing us back to our business, London recently hosted its first VidCon, for online video creators and watchers. The fan ticket was £50, the “industry track” pass, aimed at creators and marketers, was £500.
Which is a very roundabout way of getting to IBC. Does our increasingly-online communications business still need a convention? Is getting everyone to go to Amsterdam in September really a good plan?
Vendors will freely tell you that the nature of IBC – and other big trade shows – has changed drastically over recent years. Gone are the days when big broadcasters sent large engineering delegations, who visited every corner of the exhibition looking for something new.
Today, if you do not have a full diary before you arrive in Amsterdam, then you are unlikely to pick up much in the way of passing trade. Broadcasters do not have the staff available to let large numbers of them away from the office, even if the budget was there for the travel and the beer.
Vendors – and convention organisers – traditionally excuse smaller visitor numbers by saying the people they saw “were all serious prospects”. And that is good news all round.
IBC this year will probably see maybe 30,000 or so visitors, once you have taken out exhibitors, conference speakers and the press. No exhibitor can hope to have a meaningful interaction with 30,000 people over five days.
And even if they did, could your business really cope with 30,000 customers? Whether you are selling a box of BNCs or a complete playout system, can you realistically sell 30,000 of them before September 2020? Better to concentrate on worthwhile conversations with a manageable number of real, qualified prospects.
For me, what makes IBC interesting is the opportunity to see the stuff which might become important in the future. Some of it will come and go with scarcely a ripple – it was just a few years ago that all anyone wanted to talk about was 3D television, remember.
But there are innovations, some coming from left field, which are having a significant impact, and which we should all be finding more about. The IBC team works hard to incorporate innovation, talking about new ideas but also, more important, bringing it to life where it can.
This year it is leading on esports, devoting a full day to it in the conference. Esports is a phenomenon we would have said was never likely to take off until we saw it: expert computer gamers competing for big prizes. And again, while the online following is massive, the big esports tournaments draw vast live audiences, too. We are talking many thousands in stadium-like arenas.
For both live audiences and those watching online, the technical requirements are demanding. You have to see not only the game screen of each player, but also their faces and hands as they compete. The design of the stadium stage, incidentally, has to preclude players seeing the screens of each other so there is no chance of cheating.
If NAB is anything to go by, then there will be a number of stands showing technologies that can help with this content overload. The IBC conference has speakers from specialist streamers like Ginx TV and Twitch, as well as tournament organisers and games developers.
But the best way to understand something is to see it live. So IBC is hosting its own competition, in the Auditorium, free to all visitors. Professional teams from Germany and Spain will go head-to-head on Counter-Strike.
It should be worth seeing, even if you are a grumpy old man like me who cannot really see the attraction of first-person shooter games. Target audiences change, and I have a feeling that esports is going to be a lasting and popular genre in our world.
And even if you struggle with games, there is no denying the impact they have on mainstream television. The Unreal graphics engine now crops up in systems everywhere, finally making virtual studios a practical proposition, thereby enlivening things like sports analysis for the mass audience.
That would be the mass audience still watching on television, because that is the convenient and reliable way to deliver popular content to a lot of people with the minimum of latency. Try doing that with this new-fangled internet stuff.