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Note from the Industry

Introduction

Today, the media and entertainment (M&E) industry reaches into billions of homes worldwide to offer a myriad of exciting video-based experiences – but that benefit comes at a real cost. Data from BAFTA’s albert Annual Review in 2021 revealed that each hour of television produced – not even that distributed – contributes more than 5.7 tonnes of carbon equivalent emissions (CO2e) into the Earth’s atmosphere (Bafta, 2022). A recent report from Futuresource indicates that the carbon footprint of the M&E industry may even exceed that of the commercial airline industry (Interdigital, 2022).

The European Union (EU) faces a monumental task of achieving the ambitious 2030 decarbonisation target and the attainment of climate neutrality by 2050. The Fit for 55 package has established a regulatory framework poised to guide industrial sectors on the path to decarbonisation.

Recognising the crucial nature of this challenge, businesses along the value chains have become actively involved, contemplating measures to reduce energy consumption, foster energy efficiency, and adopt renewable energy solutions. This is an opportunity for change and positive impact.

Policy will always play an important role in effecting the change we need, but the M&E industry must also voluntarily adopt measures to reduce the impact of their products and services on the environment. Innovators and engineers have an opportunity to examine the M&E supply chain and propose solutions as energy demand is driven upwards by increasingly more hours of television being viewed each year and by new features of TVs, such as larger screens and higher resolution.

The challenges

Production of video content

Production is the first link in the chain of delivering video content to consumers. It is also one of the most energy intensive, from the production crew travelling to the filming venue to charging the necessary equipment. Travel, and particularly air travel, is heavily reliant on fossil fuels and contributes a large proportion of each production’s carbon output. A typical day of filming can generate as much arbon as the average person generates in an entire year.

To offset these demands, production companies have begun to prioritise lower-emission forms of travel or locations that require less travel by the production crew, as well as integrating remote work into the production ecosystem. Industry consortiums such as BAFTA’s albert have developed toolkits that production companies can use to reduce their carbon footprint, while the European Broadcasting Union also offers certification schemes that producers can use to bolster their sustainability efforts. Most recently, France introduced an initiative making a film’s funding dependent on the energy management plan for production (CNC, 2023).

Storage and data centres

In recent years, the M&E industry has gravitated towards streaming as a primary delivery mechanism, thus dramatically increasing the use of cloud-based data centres. Data centres collectively consume a great deal of energy. However, they also have the benefit of being comparatively more efficient than smaller server-based operations due to their economies of scale for energy efficiency and the ability to reuse the energy and heat they produce. Furthermore, researchers are exploring solutions to improve data storage methods to ensure content is not unnecessarily duplicated on different servers each time it is accessed. The calculus on this topic is complex, and there remains room for improvement in the sustainability of data centres.

Transmission

The transmission of video-based entertainment requires the use of different types of internet networking, video compression, and coding technologies. In addition, streaming large video files requires a tremendous amount of data management. The issue of data categorisation remains one of the most vexing problems facing the M&E industry today because there is a lack of specific measurement around data communications, which means the energy costs for transmitting these files over the internet are not always clear. In general terms, reducing bandwidth should reduce energy consumption, but the energy costs of the transmission component of streaming are more complex than simply reducing bandwidth. Solutions can be found by examining the complex relationship between the hardware and software components in each link of the chain.

Consumer technology

There are billions of TVs around the world, and while individually they do not consume very much power, collectively they account for the most significant proportion of M&E energy consumption. This is only compounded by the rising popularity of HDR and 4K TV: it is estimated that more than 1.1 billion HDR TVs will be installed in homes within the next two years. As screens become larger, offer better resolution, and provide a near photorealistic viewing experience, it comes at a carbon cost.

The solutions

Pixel value reduction (PVR)

The average 4K HDR TV consumes roughly four times more energy than a comparable 1080p HD TV as it has more than eight million pixels (compared with two million for an HD TV), with each pixel requiring tiny amounts of energy to illuminate its view.

Among the approaches to reducing the energy demands of TV consumption is an exciting solution pioneered by InterDigital called pixel value reduction (PVR). This energy-aware technology intelligently optimises pixel brightness and scans the video to determine which pixels can be rendered with lower levels of illumination, and therefore consume less energy, without impacting the viewer’s experience.

The PVR technology addresses two distinct use cases. The first prioritises the artistic integrity of the broadcast media by making incremental improvements towards energy savings through reductions in pixel value that are imperceivable to audiences. The other approach is more applicable to streaming content services that wish to achieve specific levels of energy reduction and thus can alter the pixel brightness and viewing experience accordingly.

This solution is simple but mighty –millions of small reductions in pixel brightness across billions of televisions and screens can produce significant energy savings across the ecosystem.

Versatile video coding (VVC)

Advanced compression standards can also go a long way towards reducing overall bandwidth needs and energy consumption of video delivery. But as the video industry evolves and content becomes increasingly immersive, the M&E sector needs a codec flexible enough to support a diverse range of experiences.

Versatile video coding – also known as VVC or H.266 – is among the favoured video codecs to support new services beyond traditional 2D video entertainment. Compared with its predecessors, VVC is a more efficient, higher performance video codec. It is designed to be versatile and ensure the network can handle an increase in both the amount and type of video content, whether 2D, 3D, immersive, or otherwise, without needing to change or enhance the network infrastructure. VVC offers an improvement in compression efficiency that significantly increases the network infrastructure capacity as it reduces overall video traffic and network congestion to improve the quality of experience.

VVC’s ability to empower networks to support an increase in video content amount and size, without the need to upscale the network infrastructure, is an important factor of sustainability.

Global standards

It is critical that all players within the M&E ecosystem explore and encourage innovative solutions for these very real challenges. A uniform and efficient uptake of these solutions can be ensured through global standards to encourage energy awareness throughout the video supply chain. Several global standards bodies, including ITU-R, MPEG, DVB, and SMPTE, have begun to acknowledge and explore energy efficiency and sustainability initiatives around various foundational and essential technologies, but more work needs to done.

Policy recommendations

While the M&E industry is actively engaged in the decarbonisation process, there is still ample room for improvement and for action within this sector.

The European Commission should:

  • Foster innovation by establishing conditions conducive to investment in the development of cutting-edge technologies, and by actively encouraging their implementation.
  • Initiate a comprehensive analysis aimed at identifying the challenges and opportunities for the M&E sector’s ability to contribute to the EU objectives on decarbonisation and energy efficiency.
  • Facilitate a public–private dialogue with European policymakers and industry representatives to identify practical solutions and establish specific targets for the sector. This could entail a combination of innovative technologies, industry standards, and voluntary commitments.

There is untapped potential, and the European Union stands to gain from the formulation of new targeted strategies, paths, and goals at the European level, encompassing both legislative and non-legislative initiatives towards decarbonisation and energy reduction.


References

  • Bafta. (2022). ‘BAFTA Albert Annual Review of 2021 Reveals TV Emissions Stay Low Post-Lockdown as Industry Turns Attention to Making Impact on Screen’. Press release, 14 June, https://www.bafta.org/media-centre/press-releases/baftaalbert-annual-review-reveals-tv-emissions-stay-low-postlockdown#:~:text=albert%20Carbon%20Calculator%20*data%20revealed,part%20of%20a%20production’s%20footprint.
  • CNC (2023). ‘Éco-conditionnalité progressive des aides du CNC : Remise d’un double bilan carbone des oeuvres’. 22 December, https://www.cnc.fr/professionnels/actualites/transition-ecologique-et-energetique–le-cnc-met-enplace-une–ecoconditionnalite–de-ses-aides_1805866.
  • Interdigital. (2022). ‘Sustainability in Video Entertainment: 2022 Industry Update’. November, https://www.interdigital.com/white_papers/sustainability-in-video-entertainment-2022-industry-update.
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