Business News Digital

MusicTank report focuses on environmental impact of streaming platforms

By | Published on Thursday 13 September 2012


A report from MusicTank, first previewed at The Great Escape back in May, will be published later today, analysing the environmental impact of the growth in cloud-based content services.

The document, titled ‘The Dark Side Of The Tune’, asks whether the energy consumption and resulting carbon footprint involved in streaming content online will be sustainable if and when cloud-based services go truly mainstream, comparing the energy used to operate such services with the that required to provide a download, or even content via a physical format like a CD.

The report, authored by music technology innovator Dagfinn Bach, claims that streaming an album over the net 27 times can use more energy than the manufacturing and production of its CD equivalent, meaning that you relatively quickly reach a point at which playing that record over the net will use more energy and have a bigger environmental impact overall than the old CD model.

There are, of course, a lot of variables at play here, and Bach has had to make some assumptions along the way that not everyone will agree with, though the main concerns he raises seem valid, as does the over-arching question posed by the report: “Do ever more complex cloud, mobile and streaming services represent sustainable consumption models or do they present us with an environmentally unsustainable digital future?”

The report hopes to kickstart a debate on the environmental impact of the growth in cloud-based content services and on the possible solutions to reduce energy consumption, ranging from the more obvious, like the increased used of caching, which obviously is already employed by some streaming platforms (not least to reduce bandwidth costs), to other more innovative approaches.

Commenting on the new report, MusicTank Chairman Keith Harris told CMU: “The uptake of smart devices, combined with the advent of mass connectivity and high speed broadband continues to revolutionise our consumption of music. These changes also have considerable implications for the environment. Whereas in the pre-digital era, music fans stuck a needle on the groove or hit a play button, today they are increasingly turning to cloud-based streaming services powered by energy-hungry server farms”.

Bach himself added: “Digital music is not distributed in an environmental vacuum. While CD and vinyl pressing plants are becoming rarer, the growth in data traffic caused by digital content services comes with its own risks and problems. I hope this report shines a light on the issue and opens an important debate, both in the music industry and beyond”.

This MusicTank report is available for free thanks to sponsorship by HP. Meanwhile, an event will take place to discuss the implications of the report at the University Of Westminster’s Fyvie Hall on 11 Oct.

Get the report here.

Sign up for the event here.