Research sheds light on UK’s new unsustainable viewing habits

A new study looks behind closed doors to reveal how UK viewing habits are shifting away from traditional broadcasting with more data-intensive streaming options now the default for many.

Lancaster University

A new study looks behind closed doors to reveal how UK viewing habits are shifting away from traditional broadcasting with more data-intensive streaming options now the default for many.

A viewing revolution is taking place. The advent of Internet TV, video sharing platforms like YouTube, and other on-demand services in recent years has massively increased flexibility and choice for viewers.

But the nature and extent of how household viewing habits have changed has, until now, relied largely on anecdotal evidence.

A team of computing researchers at Lancaster University has taken the closest look yet. They have thoroughly analysed the use of 66 computing devices, including smart TVs, dongles, tablet computers, laptops and mobile phones, for a month across 20 participants in nine UK households.

The study, which was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), provides valuable new evidence for the researchers, who are interested in our changing viewing habits and how this links to the huge increases in Internet data traffic. Internet traffic has risen by about 20 per cent a year recently, and streaming is about half of all traffic. These rises are of particular concern as data increases are often accompanied by hidden energy use, impacting on the environment.

“This study provides a highly nuanced understanding of contemporary watching practices that are indicative of wider trends in everyday life, and how this links to data demand,” said Kelly Widdicks, PhD Candidate of Lancaster University and the report’s lead author.

“Our findings, coinciding with statistics from the UK and US, show there has been a significant behavioural shift towards streaming as a default with traditional broadcast TV, or DVDs, becoming obsolete for some.”

All households in the study watched some form of video content every day – contributing to nearly three quarters of total household data demand.

Smartphones were the most commonly owned devices and a PlayStation games console was the most data-hungry device in the study, followed by TV dongles.

YouTube was found to be the most data demanding watching service – accounting for almost half of demand for watching across all households – and is, unsurprisingly, more popular with younger ‘Generation Z’ participants. Other demanding viewing services included Now TV, Netflix, Sky TV and TV Player. These were followed by social-media related video content on platforms such as Facebook and Twitch.

Researchers found that when provided with options to watch programmes in different resolutions, often higher, more data-hungry, resolutions, such as HD, were selected. Families were often watching different programmes simultaneously on different devices, so-called ‘multi-watching’, which amplifies data consumption.

The study also uncovered evidence of wasteful practices. Some participants use video streaming platforms, such as YouTube, as background music players – and do not actually watch the videos, despite the large amounts of data involved. Others didn’t always enjoy the content they watched, or found streaming services distracting from their everyday chores and activities.

They also found that participants would rather watch programmes through online catch-up services rather than pre-record them or dig out the DVD from their collections, because it is “just as easy” to do.

The researchers have made several suggestions to help reduce the energy demand and environmental impact brought about by the revolution in viewing.

These include academics and software designers working closely with network engineers to design functions, or prompts, that nudge viewers to consider less demanding forms of watching. These collaborations could also help pre-empt network load from new, data-intensive service designs- such as when Facebook introduced auto-playing of video, which significantly increased data demand on Internet networks.

The researchers also call on policy makers to give greater consideration to the energy and environmental costs associated with the Internet when pushing for faster infrastructure.

“Internet policies driving superfast access may only be fuelling more demand, as infrastructural capacity growth leads to increased demand”, said Dr Oliver Bates, Senior Researcher at Lancaster University and study co-author. “It is clear that policy-makers have not made the connection between all-you-can-eat marketing, by Internet service providers, and data demand and there is little discussion on the energy impact of the Internet within public policy.

“We urgently need to confront ‘all you can eat’ and ‘binge’ watching more broadly as the shift to Internet-based services has an increasing impact on people, society and the planet. Ultimately if bingeing is bad for our health why are service providers allowed to promote data gorging?”

The academics also suggest imposing limits on Internet traffic to cut data demand. Though they acknowledge that traffic limits run against ideas of ‘net neutrality’ in which all Internet traffic is treated equally.

“We fully support the social justice and civic participation aims of net neutrality, but we should also consider traffic limits for reasons of greater good – environmental sustainability”, said Dr Mike Hazas, Reader at Lancaster University.

“As a result, if video entertainment traffic should cost more to reflect its environmental cost, or be otherwise limited in some way, this policy would have to be applied to all video content providers: Netflix, YouTube and the rest.”

“It is time that we, as a society, work together to redefine our watching futures and begin dealing head-on with the unsustainable trajectory of this data demand,” said Kelly Widdicks.

###

The findings have been detailed in a paper titled ‘Streaming, Multi-Screens and YouTube: The New (Unsustainable) Ways of Watching in the Home’, which was presented at the CHI 2019 computing academic conference at Glasgow in May.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE0IU9rKJao

From EurekAlert!

70 thoughts on “Research sheds light on UK’s new unsustainable viewing habits

    • Orwellian for sure. Here’s a quote that shows what the government is thinking.

      When an alert is heard, it is the responsibility of the public to stop, listen and respond as directed by the Government Issuer. link

      This reminds me a lot of the part in 1984 where the telescreen warns Winston to do his morning exercises properly.

      Pierre Trudeau once said that the government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation. link That, IMHO, includes Amber Alerts in the middle of the night.

      • “The greater good” is less Orwell than JK Rowling.
        Still used by a guy who trains a child into being a virtual suicide bomber, though.
        (SPOILER for a 20 year old book).

  1. Not sure why anyone needs a summary from a bunch of computer scientists. Everyone in the telecom business can already tell you so much more than this. In the U.S. I have access to second by second data for 10 million smart TV’s, (via Inscape), plus panel data for 50,000 U.S. homes that provides minute by minute viewing for all the devices associated with that home, (from Nielsen),

    And it’s amazing! for them to reveal that viewing habits are changing over to streaming, who would have guessed that people prefer to watch “what they want, when they want.”

    And wow, a couple simple calculations can give you the difference in energy consumption between server based distribution and basic linear transmission, in the words of our fearless leader, it’s “HUGE!”

    • The study was not intended to tell us that people are moving to non-linear viewing, ask any 5 year old and they could tell you that. What it is meant to support the opinion that choice is bad, people are stupid, and the gov’t needs to ration everything (including bytes) for our own good.

      FTA: “The academics also suggest imposing limits on Internet traffic to cut data demand. ”

      And they wonder why no-one trusts academics these days. If we are going to ration bytes I would suggest we take them away from the academics first.

      • for a month across 20 participants in nine UK households.

        It’s not the byte ration they should reducing it is the funding.

        Wow, at total of 20 different subjects which were not even from separate households. What did he do, sign up all his students to be the “independent” population sample and get them co-opt a family member?

        Whatever his “data” shows it is statistically meaningless BS. How can anyone even get to write a grant proposal like that , let alone get it approved.

      • ……If we are going to ration bytes I would suggest we take them away from the academics first….
        Especially climate scientists who base their computer models on peer review passed data that really miserably fails a cheap store called Poundland’s QA test used by the supplier of one of their cheap Christmas novelties. By their claims for beyond question it should easily pass the QA test for life critical applications.

        As our QA engineer regularly reminded us a computer model is only as good as the foundation data and she was a hard task master or the appropriate PC term.

    • You see, Dufus Diddley, the primary investigator in the farce wants to be known as the man who exposed the shameless waste of data bits, bits whose lives were sacrificed by the callous disregard consisting of just listening to YouTube instead of enraptured watching.

      Here we have the potential for a whole new ocean of guilt and leftist angst now seeing its first flower. Harken to the bitterness!

      If only we had a model to tell us how many poisonous carbon molecules sully the atmosphere from the decomposition of murdered bits leaving this mortal coil…

  2. If our viewing habits are truly unsustainable it will be because of energy consumption. The law of supply and demand dictates that energy will become more expensive. That means they will have to charge more for internet bandwidth. That will reduce demand to sustainable levels.

    Adam Smith obviously has no space in the minds of the researchers who think our viewing habits are unsustainable.

  3. A new study looks behind closed doors to reveal how UK viewing habits are shifting away from traditional broadcasting with more data-intensive streaming options now the default for many.

    I could have saved them the time and effort and trousered the cash.

    There was a time when there was just BBC(1), then came ITV, then BBC2, Channel 4, Channel 5 and then the satellite/cable revolution of a zillion channels.

    When there were just three channels (BBC1, BBC2, ITV) it wasn’t all day, and the programmes were of a quality way above the pap served up now. Not sure? Check out BBC2s I Clavdius with Brian Blessed and John Hurt among others.

    TV serves up the lowest common denominator – reality TV – the modern equivalent of the Colosseum, and they all get their fifteen minutes, too.

    It’s no wonder with all that rubbish on the air that people view what they really want on demand. Like Tom Baker’s DR Who. The definitive Dr.

    • Rephrasing from Menken: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the crassness of the general public.”

  4. A new study looks behind closed doors to reveal how UK viewing habits are shifting away from traditional broadcasting with more data-intensive streaming options now the default for many.

    We had far superior TV when there was just BBC1, BBC2 and ITV – eg BBC2s I Claudius.

    Now you have (cheap) reality TV and everyone gets their 15 minutes.

    It’s no wonder [thinking] people have turned tuned out. I’d rather watch Tom Baker as the definitive Doctor Who than this latest incarnation – he’s transitioned to a female, dontcha know.

    • I’d rather watch Tom Baker as the definitive Doctor Who

      OT- Tom’s is the Doctor I started watching Who with, but Patrick Troughton is “the” Doctor for me. Shame the BBC in it’s infinite wisdom (do I really need to add a sarc tag there?) destroyed their only copies of most of his episodes – currently 53 of his 119 episodes remain missing, (the number use to be a lot higher prior to 2013 when 9 episodes were returned from Nigeria) only 7 of his 21 stories are complete. Thankfully fans back in the 1960s recorded the audio off their televisions, which has enabled otherwise incomplete or missing stories to be “completed” via animation (5 of Pat’s officially released on DVD) or “reconstructions” (taking audio and matching it with photographs from the stories – basically a sophisticated slideshow)

      • Ordinarily in any kind of survey, depending on the history of the statistics of the sample area, the minimum number would be 50-100, randomly chosen from the phonebook or the housing unit registration for the BBC. The real polling companies go to great lengths to balance the stated characteristics of the people involve- age, sex, schooling, income, etc.

        Unless the numbers are overwhelming, such as 80% of a sample agree, it is just a silly study.

  5. A study with n=20 is not a real study. Sample size too small by at least 12. Not worthless but almost no good statistics can be gleaned from this survey.

    • It’s worse than that. It’s n=9 households. Innumeracy and lack of statistical power strikes again.

      • Depends on which “n” is the important one (participants n=20 or households n=9). Either way, the sample size is too small to count as anything more than anecdotal.

  6. One month, twenty participants, nine households. That’s the sort of “survey” schoolkids might do as a maths/science project.
    “Internet policies driving superfast access may only be fuelling more demand”. May be ??.., what size brain did it take to work that out?
    Then we get to the money shot “The researchers have made several suggestions to help reduce the energy demand and environmental impact brought about by the revolution in viewing.” They are just fishing for their next “sustainable” research grant. Doubtless their next astonishing research will delve deeply into the carbon cost of data and how we should all be made to pay for it.

  7. Apart from that usual word, “”Environmental sustainability”” , the thing
    that I found of most interest was the increasing amount of energy, i.e.
    electricity. being used.

    This at a time that the UK appears to be going even Greener.

    A bit of a conflict between what the people want , and
    what the Grid may not be able to supply.

    MJE VK5ELL

  8. ” … thoroughly analysed the use of 66 computing devices, including smart TVs, dongles, tablet computers, laptops and mobile phones, for a month across 20 participants in nine UK households … ”
    And they have got the nerve to publish this tripe as if it is valuable research?
    They want to choke it all off anyway. If someone paid for this they need to demand a refund.

    • Speaking of choking it off, the elephant in the room is internet porn. Allegedly, half of all internet traffic is streaming rudeness. In addition, and even more alarmingly, every masturbatory event burns 70 calories, quite apart from the downloaded data. This MUST BE STOPPED!!!

      If we are ever going to overcome global warming, bukake must be banned. It’s for your own good.

      (Obviously academic research into cultural sexual proclivities, with a heavy bias toward lbgtqxvrmsjfgy practices, will be allowed – purely for research purposes, the results of which to be shared across multi-platform live streaming of inter-disciplinary conferences based mostly in Brazil, distributed within academic circles only.)

      • You ban that stuff and you’ll instantly have another obesity epidemic on your hands. *Oh, no pun intended*.

  9. “It is time that we, as a society, work together to redefine our watching futures ”

    Once again, the real goal is controlling the lives of others.

  10. Let me guess, these people do not view “live stream” thus are exempt from the BBC TV tax.

  11. Has anyone coined a word for innumeracy relating to statistics like dystatic? (Dystatic being a play on dystopia.) It is a constant feature of this kind of nonsense: lack of statistical power ignored in reporting a fabulous result that supports an agenda. n=9???? Who are they kidding?

  12. So, basically, decades of The Bebe being their only source of information/entertainment has driven the people of Britain to seek other sources. This, in turn, has infuriated Those Who Command and they are going to seize control of the sources of information/entertainment available to the people of Britain. Does that about sum this all up?

    • Yes. But now the BBC has “outsourced” it’s “bullyboy” oppression to “collection agencies” where they demand payment of services received (From the BBC).

      • Sounds like the same “thinking” coming from politicians in New York state who want laws that require you to continue paying NY taxes after moving out of the state.

  13. Given the same “sustainability” logic would have already required the energy used in data streaming to be carbon priced at source, haven’t we already purchased our indulgences for this?

  14. The way we communicate with each other is very different from the beginning of the 20th Century. Then it was by letter or in person, with mass communication by newspaper, pamphlet or book. The instant response with Twitter/Facebook involves a different thought process to that of writing a letter for which you know the minimum response time is measured in days.

    The downside of immediate response times is the lack of time to consider, thought, and politeness in a lot of the responses.

  15. 1) not susatainable: they mean BBC indoctrination and tax revenue for their coffers is losing viewers.
    2) population of sample: 20! They could have done as well with tree rings and a stat procedure that makes hockeysticks from red noise.
    3) Another sub 100 IQ PhD. S’truth! A PhD awarded for this childish level of research. I believe the population of idjit PhDs is unsustainable. The world is filling up with these clones.

    • Gary – your second point is indeed puzzling. Not that I doubt the results generally across a wider range based on personal anecdotal observation, but who does a population sampling of 20 and expect it to accurately represent a population of millions? At least I know my limited observations have a built-in bias.

  16. By do we have to pay the BBC £150 a year when Al Jazeera (London) is so much better? And all you want on Netflix for £5.99 a month. Close it down and save our country from ruin by all those shrill lefty women

  17. And the BBC can fine you for not having a “broadcasting license” if you have a mains powered RADIO! Forget TV!

      • Not as easy as that. Now, if the BBC “collection service” does not have a record of a TV license “on their records” for a property, “inspection officers” can arrive demanding entry to your home. They usually arrive with Police on hand to deal with any “disruption”. IIRC these “officers” have what is called in the UK a “statutory right on entry to your home”. Problem is, the BBC license fee, about GBP145.00 IIRC, covers ALL devices. Smart phones, PC’s, TV’s and radios etc etc.

        • Then move out of that totalitarian country and move into one that values freedom.

        • The UK has always been tax happy. For example: During the 1800’s they taxed the number of windows in your house.

          • Lots of places in US do that, each window is considered a room in the structure. Unless you let them in, then they count actual rooms as they list all your possessions for latter “appropriation” by some acquaintance at a latter date.

  18. Hollywood celebs and other wealthy greens have been trying to stop the plebs from flying. Air travel should be the preserv of important people like themselves.

    It seems that the plebs have also been using the zinternet too much. When will the plebs learn that some things are too good for people like themselves?

  19. It’s genius, really. If you want to restrict people’s consumption of something for whatever reason, make them pay more for it, i.e. tax it. The genius part is that you get the additional revenue stream. Win-win. At least they haven’t figured out how to tax the air yet. Or HAVE they?

  20. The fact that more people are getting their information from online sources probably explains the big push in recent years for government to control online sources.

  21. “We urgently need to confront ‘all you can eat’ and ‘binge’ watching more broadly as the shift to Internet-based services has an increasing impact on people, society and the planet.”

    Don’t forget the Planet! It’s the next best reference to ‘Climate change’ to guarantee more funding.

  22. Fascist Progressives always insist they speak on behalf of society.
    They don’t of course.

  23. “We fully support the social justice and civic participation aims of net neutrality, but we should also consider traffic limits for reasons of greater good – environmental sustainability”, said Dr Mike Hazas, Reader at Lancaster University.

    Once I read that paragraph everything became clear. The so called “research” has nothing what-so-ever to do with data, data streaming or internet use alone. The key to their agenda is hidden in their professed “concern” for where people are getting their information and how to possibly control those sources. Knowing that there would be hell to pay if they were to touch the alternative access to information they set about their plan by couching their actions in the warm and fuzzy words like “environmental sustainability”.

    Such terms have been fed to the public using drama driven fearful warnings which actually have no basis in reality. They deal in blanket statements and the promise of safe places wrapped in lies of correlation and association. This stokes fear in their followers who yearn to be free of the endless propagandized message of uncertainty and terror. The people are kept ignorant so they remain fearful.

    It’s the same old pattern: warn people of a non-existent threat, then imply that they (the ones who know) are the ones who can provide the solutions and means to accomplish the impossible task. But because the threat does not actually exist there really is no solution, only another more deadly enemy on the horizon to attack and defend against.

    Hence they get to keep solving non-problems and receiving outlandish fees simply by keeping people distracted long enough for them to forget about the non-problems sold to them yesterday in favor of today’s scarier threat. These self appointed intellectuals demand high fees and positions, while passing on the burden and suffering to the lowly masses who could never be as smart as they are.

    This is not about the internet. It is about controlling the narrative without getting caught doing so. That my friends is the real purpose behind the bogeyman presently named “climate change”, “environmental sustainability”, “Global Warming”, and “Protecting the Planet”,… and on and on.

    But DO NOT look at the man behind the curtain. Pay attention to the “Great and Powerful Oz”.
    It’s all “Smoke and Projection” folks.

    WUWT is among the very few sties which provides expression and practice of our natural and developed healthy skill of inquiry and skepticism. Anything less can only lead to illness. What is amazing about science is that it helps one to not only know and understand what we think we see but to also be able to see today what yesterday was invisible to us.

  24. I would suspect that it’s “unsustainable” only if one insists to use renewables.

    But then, everything is.

  25. I have not watched any news on mainstream media for nearly ten years now. It is so politically biased as to be unwatchable to me. Every advertisment has to but ultra politically correct. It is embarassing to be an normal Englishman now.

    • Worse still the media are now a destructive entity, who are harming society.

      MSM cause division intentionally, for ratings.
      CNN and co have done more to divide Americans than anything else. Trump has a point when he says enemy of the people

      Corporate media is the worst. Brian Stelter is an evil little bald weirdo

  26. I wanted to watch the youtube video listed at the end of the article, but I feel so guilty, I think I’ll wait ’til it appears on TV. 😣

  27. The authors of this junk should be shelved, talk about garbage pan handling drivel.

    I’d like to know the BBC’s energy consumption per viewer compared to Youtube’s energy consumption per viewer, guaranteed BBC’s number is massively larger

    • I wonder what the BBC’s ratio of employees to hours of output is, compared with the likes of YouTube and Netflix. Do we even need to ask?

  28. They just want to suck the enjoyment out of everything don’t they. All for “the greater good”. God help us all.

  29. They just want to suck the enjoyment out of everything don’t they. All for “the greater good”. God help us all.

  30. Just occurred to me reading this thread what nuMedia actually is in real terms.

    All those youtube channels, blogs and live streams? It is the workers gaining control of the means of production.

    Media, unlike anything else in history, has successfully gone Marxist!

    The fact the shamelessly left MSM are so against the growth of independent nuMedia and long for a return to the times where information was distributed vertically basically goes to prove that the Marxist/Socialist Dream was never about returning power to the masses, it was about ensuring power was held by the correct (ie THEM) people.

    • Marxism always ends up the same way – absolute control of the many by the few. Unfortunately the social media and general media platforms are also now being controlled more and more tightly. Many users who post “extreme right wing” views and youtubes are now being banned, censored and no platformed by the Great Controllers. I put that in parentheses because a lot of the material is no more extreme than anything you would read on these pages. If it doesn’t conform to The Agenda it will be disappeared.

  31. “Others didn’t always enjoy the content they watched”

    Wow. Seems everyone wants to sink the boot into Game of Thrones Season 8!

  32. What about wasted movie adverts that increase computer consumption by around 20% according to the power meter I have. What is really annoying is there is no way to say I have bought one so stop pestering me any more.

  33. I’ve known people (60 years ago) that had the TV on all day and often all night.
    This was when the stations signed off and ran a test pattern from about 1 AM
    to 6 AM:
    https://thebmoreboss.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/test-pattern.jpg?w=1000

    I wonder how energy efficient the old “tube type” TVs were.
    For the young:
    Looked like:
    http://i.ytimg.com/vi/wth_e1DPPSk/hqdefault.jpg
    Inside view:
    https://www.boxcarcabin.com/rca-ctc-16-round-tube-tv.jpg

  34. And the elephant in the room is: if people using their computers are using “too much electricity”, how exactly is the electrical grid going to cope with all the electric cars that we are supposed to be replacing our gas cars with?

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