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15 September 2022

Sustainability at IBC – GoS cloud coup; HNR’s data platform

There were numerous debates in full flow at IBC 2022 about what people actually mean when they talk about sustainability in streaming? These same discussions often ignore an important question – how can the emerging crop of environmentally-conscious media organizations get rich as well as green?

If you can look past the awkward name, a UK-based start-up called Humans Not Robots has the makings of an actually useful video data platform to help guide people through the many hoops surrounding sustainable decision making.

Speaking to Faultline at IBC 2022, Kristan Bullett, CEO at Humans Not Robots, makes no bones about the company wanting to make money from the climate crisis – the type of honesty that will be appreciated by clients.

If a streaming customer wants to crank up the dial on the back-end to increase processing and deliver a better performance, Humans Not Robots isn’t going to stop them. What it will do is advise on how to reduce operational costs while improving margins, based on data observations from carbon output, power consumption and costs, at a granular level.

There is a general feeling, particularly from North American media companies, that sustainability initiatives will get in the way of making money. It doesn’t have to be this way. The need to pay back shareholders is possible through reducing operational overheads and therefore raising margins.

Reducing power consumption is an easy place to start, but even that requires the right data, which – as we know – is a mess of languages and lexicon. Bullett points to US data software monitoring firm Splunk as an example of a platform that promises observability but still lacks joined up data.

Through a blending of AI and big data approaches, Humans Not Robots helps to identify applications where energy and costs can be reduced, claiming to save at least 20% in media supply chain processing costs. It also claims to reduce impact by 30%, although the definition of the word “impact” here is hazy and open to interpretation. This can vary greatly through scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions – differing from company to company, industry to industry.

Humans Not Robots’ data dashboard does not yet cater for scope 3 emissions from elsewhere in the supply chain, but Bullett has strong views that many organizations see scope 3 as a convenient way to shift blame. This is why regulators in Europe are putting scope 3 emissions under the microscope, because claiming to achieve net-zero as a whole company, when in reality you are only hitting scope 1 and 2 emissions, is disingenuous.

Of course, you don’t just launch something without sufficient demand. Bullett mentions British multi-channel broadcaster UKTV, which identified energy consumption as a critical omission from video data platforms. We should note that Humans Not Robots isn’t interested in the production side, leaving that down to the likes of albert to apply its carbon calculator.

One might argue that the emergence of companies like Humans Not Robots – those building data platforms to bring sustainability to the media story – could confuse the picture further if the market becomes overcrowded before standardized data practices are implemented.

Cameos from CreativeZero, Kibo121, and Workflowers during a sustainability conference session at IBC all muddy the waters, as company founders pat each other’s backs on their collective sustainability missions to help media companies reach net-zero. Some are advisory groups, consultancy businesses even, not technology companies. Humans Not Robots is hoping to cut through that with a real data platform and real dashboard.

‘Carbon tunnel vision’ is a term thrown up, to describe people seeing sustainability broadly as just an issue about carbon emissions, when the bigger picture brings in societal aspects, supply chain aspects, and other environmental aspects beyond carbon emissions.

We learn that a major public cloud provider has just joined Greening of Streaming, with an official announcement pending. Of the big three US public clouds – AWS, Azure and Google Cloud – we have a gut feeling that the latter’s signature is on the dotted line.

It will be interesting to see how the non-profit group’s thinking changes in the months following the cloud coup. Will the influence be so overbearing that members are bullied into a single-cloud rather than multi-cloud mindset?

Standardizing on a single cloud provider’s datasets could exacerbate the problem of people not being on the same page, as companies collect, analyze and extrapolate data in different ways for different cloud services.

Is pulling the big three together not imperative to Greening of Streaming’s mission? We are thinking out loud of course, and just hope that GoS members are asking similar questions.