Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

9 June 2022

Political praise distracts from data minefield facing Greening of Streaming

It was a mostly platonic affair at the Greening of Streaming’s Parliamentary event in Westminster this week, organized to raise the political profile of the non-profit group, although a few stones were thrown – and rightly so, otherwise no one will take any notice.

Dr. Alan Whitehead – who is the UK’s Shadow Minister for Energy – denounced his fellow members of parliament for lacking a fundamental understanding of the technology that makes the world tick, let alone the niche world of the streaming supply chain where Greening of Streaming is striving for joined up thinking to nurture energy efficiencies.

As a fierce advocate for tackling climate change, Whitehead implored his blinkered policymakers – situated just down the hall in the House of Commons – to look at the real figures. Unfortunately, part of the problem is that, in technology, there isn’t a standardized way of measuring power consumption, so estimates and comparisons vary wildly.

Whitehead pulled out a statistic claiming that the world’s datacenters consume between 200 TWh per year and 250 TWh per year, which is comparable to the energy output of the entire UK, which is projected at 235 TWh per year.

But how are we supposed to trust such figures, when Whitehead himself confesses that these estimates aren’t even up to date? Increasingly, we are finding that any carbon statistics and figures should be taken with a pinch of salt, until the industry agrees on a common language.

Fittingly, Conservative Member of Parliament Matt Warman – former Technology Editor for UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph – referenced a news item circling in December 2019 claiming that 30 minutes of streaming was, at the time, equivalent to driving 4 miles in a car.

It later transpired that this statistic was completely untrue, an exposé described as being damaging to the luddite agenda – one possibly sponsored by Blockbuster, Warman jested, earning some laughs among the video technology crowd.

Warman described Greening of Streaming as “the true version of the story here” – adding that events on important matters usually attract the smallest audiences, which was not the case on this occasion.

Jibes aside, Warman echoed the rallying cry of Whitehead (a rare breaking of bread between opposition MPs), directing his message at “the people down the corridor here who don’t understand what you do, and don’t take responsibility.”

Letting the audience know some homework had been done, Warman claimed that progress is being made inside the UK government to make datacenters greener, an issue which was addressed in the build-up to the COP26 Climate Conference in November 2021. Unfortunately, details were scarce.

Just when we thought Greening of Streaming’s Executive Director, Adam Curwin, was about to feed us some data hot off the press from the group’s work with Dr. Daniel Schien at Bristol University, the rug was pulled from underneath us. We learned that some raw data has been collected from the European Champions League soccer final, which took place a month ago, as a testbed, although we understand the data requires some intensive ironing out before anything can be shared. It will be months before we can sink our teeth into anything solid.

We do know that traffic figures from the match are being analyzed to compare traffic volumes with power consumptions, thanks to Greening of Streaming members which managed to convince customers to allow this data to be collected.

Faultline can’t help but be cynical, however, based on our past pains attempting to get a glimpse of findings from a sustainable streaming project back in December 2021, which saw rivals Sky Sports, BT Sport, and BBC Sport lay down their weapons to produce the world’s first major carbon net-zero Premier League soccer match. More than six months later, albert – the carbon calculator for the video production industry – is still unable to share any findings until UK soccer studio Premier League Productions publishes its whitepaper.

Parties involved in this project – including AWS, M2A Media, Blackbird, Hitomi, Zixi, Singular Live, and Microsoft, to name a few – have been sitting on the data for months, without being allowed to share anything. In the collaborative global fight against climate change, what good does it do to conceal data just because you want to lay it all out in a shiny whitepaper with some pretty pictures?

We fully appreciate this is far from a simple process, but if this timeframe is what we can expect in streaming sustainability projects – six months to a year of waiting just to see some preliminary findings after every project – then progress is going to be a hell of a lot slower than we expect.

This is why the industry desperately needs data cohesion.

“Engineers are ready and waiting – what we need now is policymakers,” stressed Curwin, who also implored journalists to scrutinize the practices of companies hiding behind greenwashing.

This is a little ironic, given that Greening of Streaming is attempting to hook the cloud computing heavyweights as members (we spot an AWS name badge in the audience), which are among the greatest greenwashing culprits in technology. Curwin tells Faultline in confidence that the group is getting close to convincing the cloud infrastructure providers to sign on the dotted line.

Greening of Streaming’s founder, Dom Robinson, also fired a few arrows at the press for peddling stories about the initiative being anti-streaming, which is clearly the wrong end of the stick given that Robinson’s day job, at live streaming specialist id3as, is what pays the bills.

Looking ahead – and sticking with the soccer theme – Greening of Streaming members have identified The World Cup Final taking place in late 2022 as the next testbed. The group intends to make this data freely available.

We wouldn’t be surprised if Greening of Streaming’s membership list doubles in the weeks following this week’s glitzy event – with tiers ranging from £2,000 ($2,500) a year to £12,000 ($15,000) a year, depending on an organization’s size. Public service broadcasters and peer trade associations can become partner members for free, by invitation only.