We Need to Work Together to Conserve Bits in the Zettabyte Era

Over the past year, and again last week, there has been no shortage of articles and discussion around data caps, binge-on, zero rated content, and of course network neutrality.

We know the story. Consumer demand for Internet and over-the-top video content is insatiable. This is creating an unstoppable tsunami of video.

Vendors like Cisco have published the Visual Network Index to help the industry forecast how big that wave is, so we can work together to find sustainable ways to deliver it.

The Cisco VNI is projecting that internet video traffic will more than double to 2.3 Zettabytes by 2020. (Endnote 1.) To put it another way, that’s 1.3 Billion DVDs of video crossing the internet daily in 2020, versus the 543 Million DVDs of video that crossed the internet today.

That’s still tough to visualize, so here’s a back-of-the-envelope thought experiment

Let’s take the single largest TV event in history, Super Bowl 49.

114 million viewers on average, every minute, watched Super Bowl 49 in 2015. The broadcast is about 3 hours and 35 minutes.  We might say that 24.5 Billion cumulative viewer-minutes of video were watched.

Assume that a DVD holds 180 minutes of video. (Note, this is an inexact guess assuming a conservative video quality.) If one person watched 543 Million DVDs of video, she would have to spend 97.8 billion cumulative minutes watching all of it. That’s four Super Bowl 49s every day.

And in 2020, it’s going to be close to 10 Super Bowl 49s of cumulative viewer-minutes of video trafficking across the network. In one day.

That is a lot of traffic and it is going to be hard work to transport those bits in a reliable, high-quality fashion that is also economically sustainable.

And that’s true no matter whether you are a network operator or an over-the-top content distributor. Here’s why.

All Costs are Variable in the Long-run

Recently, Comcast and Netflix have agreed to partner, which bodes well for both companies’ business models, and for the consumer at large. However, last week there were several news headlines about data caps and zero-rated content. These will undoubtedly continue.

Now, it’s obvious that OTT companies like Netflix & M-GO need to do everything they can to reduce the costs of video delivery. That’s why both companies have pioneered new approaches to video quality optimization.

On the other hand, it might seem that network operators have a fixed cost structure that gives them wiggle room for sub-optimal encodes.

But it’s worth noting this important economic adage: In the long run, all costs are variable. When you’re talking about the kind of growth in video traffic that industry analysts are projecting to 2020, everything is a variable cost.

And when it comes to delivering video sustainably, there’s no room for wasting bits. Both network operators and over-the-top content suppliers will need to do everything they can to lower the number of bits they transport without damaging the picture quality of the video.

In the age of the Zettabyte, we all need to be bit conservationists.


Endnote 1: http://www.cisco.com/c/dam/m/en_us/solutions/service-provider/vni-forecast-widget/forecast-widget/index.html