DVDs hurt the environment more than streaming
May 29, 2014

Video Streaming Is More Environmentally-Friendly Than DVDs

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Video streaming services have made watching your favorite television series and movies more convenient than heading over to the local video store, and – according to a new study in Environmental Research Letters – their use requires less energy and emits less carbon dioxide than buying, renting and viewing DVDs.

"It's a modern-day equivalent of the debate about which is more environmentally sound—the disposable or the cloth diaper,” said study author Arman Shehabi, an engineer from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

"Our study suggests that equipment designers and policy makers should focus on improving the efficiency of end-user devices and network transmission energy to curb the energy use from future increases in video streaming,” he said. "Such efficiency improvements will be particularly important in the near future, when society is expected to consume far greater quantities of streaming video content compared to today."

To determine any potential environmental advantages of streaming video over DVDs, the study team analyzed four distinct kinds of DVD products: rented DVDs that are mailed from online vendors, DVDs rented from a store, DVDs that are bought online and DVDs that are purchased from a brick-and-mortar store. The researchers also looked at streaming of TV shows and movies. They did not include shorter videos that are streamed online via sites such as YouTube.

The study team discovered that video streaming and the online rental of DVDs used very similar amounts of energy. However, renting and buying DVDs from a store were found to require much more energy, due to the environmental impact of driving. A substantial percentage of the energy usage and carbon emissions for streaming originate from the transmission of data, which rises considerably when more complex, high-definition content is streamed.

They calculated that in 2011, 192 PJ of energy was used, and nearly 23 billion pounds of carbon dioxide was emitted, for all types of DVD usage and streaming in the US. They also found that one hour of video streaming needs 7.9 megajoules (MJ) of energy, as opposed to the maximum amount of as 12 MJ for traditional DVD viewing. An hour of streaming also emits 1 pound of carbon dioxide, as opposed to the maximum amount of as 1.9 pounds of carbon dioxide for DVD viewing.

The team calculated that if all DVD viewing in the US was moved to streaming services in 2011, around 5.4 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions could have been averted and around 30 petajoules (PJ) of energy saved - the equivalent of the quantity of electricity needed to power 200,000 US households.

The team used figures from 2011 in their study, but those numbers could already be outdated. According to a report released by Digital Entertainment Group in early 2014, purchases of digital movies rose 47 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, Blu-ray sales were up 5 percent for the year.

The report noted that the range of video-streaming options has also increased during the past year.

“New platforms such as Comcast’s digital movie sellthrough service and Target Ticket, and media hub consoles like Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4 contributed to growth by expanding consumer access to entertainment,” the report said.