Streaming Music WILL NOT Destroy the Planet



A report with a very “link bait” title is making the rounds: “The Dark Side of the Tune: The Hidden Energy Cost of Digital Music Consumption.”

The premise is thus:

  • Music used to be encoded on physical objects, like records or CDs (things which had a one-time energy cost), that were possessed by a consumer
  • Music is transitioning from physical storage to electronic storage; the consumer doesn’t keep an object in his house, he just requests that an electronic copy of a song be sent to him via the Internet
  • It doesn’t cost much to transfer or “stream” music in this way, but it must be done many times over the life of the consumer
  • The net energy cost of streaming* music** will far outpace the net energy cost of providing music on physical media
  • Music** streaming* will some day consume a double-digit percentage of the world’s energy production (unless we start a concerted effort to find new technologies, why oh why haven’t we started researching these things, oh wait we have, why are we writing this report in the first place)
* The report arbitrarily assumes that half of all music streaming will occur using wireless networks, presumably using much more energy per unit data than physical networks.

** An interesting bit of conflation happens here: the report is nominally about music, but the calculations of bandwidth usage include things like uncompressed video.

The first three points are basically true.  The latter two are bat-shit insane.

Some doozies I cherry-picked from the report:

 “Even with all traffic moving over to WiMAX, this traffic will nevertheless consume the energy equivalent of 21 per cent of the world’s total electricity consumption in 2010.”

!#%$&^%!&%!!!!!!!   They’re suggesting that in 2027, 1 billion people would be using WiMAX (a questionable assumption) as their primary music-streaming connection (a very questionable assumption) with the same rate of power usage (an even more questionable assumption) per unit data transferred.

“To further illustrate the scale of data traffic and its energy drain, 2011 YouTube statistics indicate some 4 billion video streams per day [see Appendix 2].  Assuming a 1GB file size per video (half of YouTube’s 2GB cap), this represents daily data traffic consumption of approximately 8 exabytes – annually equivalent to 0.1 per cent of the world’s electricity consumption in 2010.”

!^$&@%$&!%@&$T!!!$R4!!!  I like that they arbitrarily set the average file size at half of maximum size.  I was once able to eat an entire cake for dinner, therefore I eat half a cake for dinner each night.  Lunacy.  There are a whole bunch of faulty assumptions being made.

  1. Even if a user has uploaded a 1GB video to YouTube, that does not mean that all the viewers will be downloading 1GB each time they view the video.  YouTube converts all videos to multiple sizes and qualities.
  2. There is no way in hell that the average video size is even close to 1GB.  According to this study done in 2010, the average length of a YouTube video was around 4 minutes.  Even if we are generous and assume that all videos are HD (around 20MB per minute), that works out to 80MB average.  80MB versus 1000MB.  A bit of a difference.
  3. The study assumes that 2 billion people globally will be streaming two hours of music every day, half of them using ADSL, half of them using GPRS.  What’s GPRS?  Oh, you know how everyone is rolling out 3G and 4G mobile phone networks?  GPRS is 2G.  Right, so 1 billion people are going to be using a technology that NO ONE is rolling out anymore, anywhere.  Also notice that there are only two types of service mentioned here: physical network, cellular/mobile network.  Did someone forget Wi-Fi?  Most users not blessed with an unlimited cellular/mobile data plan (which is damned near everyone in the Americas, anyway) will opt for the much cheaper Wi-Fi in their own homes, coffee shops, schools, business, etc.  This report pegs the energy usage of GPRS at around 2.5 times that of Wi-Fi.  I know this is an industry group for the music business, but I wonder if they get money from carriers to demonstrate the need for large government cash infusions into… carriers.


The whole report is a real trip.  If you are a policy maker, investor, or unusually gullible, I will simply advise you not to take anything in that report seriously.

Oh, you also have to subscribe to their newsletter in order to access the paper.  You can unsubscribe right away, apparently.  I will be.