Relax, Your Netflix Binges Aren't Wrecking the Environment

Splash Netflix graphic showing popular program and movie covers.
Netflix

There are a lot of floating social media posts about how streaming content from Netflix and the like is as bad for the environment as driving a car. Worried about Mrs. Maisel’s nighttime hunger? Dont be.

The claims, if you haven’t seen them, go the way of watching streaming services for an hour equivalent to driving your car about 8 miles. Not only is the statement inaccurate, but it is poorly thought out because the comparison only compares the energy that the car spends in motion at that moment (ignoring everything else in the production and refueling chain), but does not not allow streaming services of the same courtesy to only consider, say, the cost of maintaining your TV.

Either way, it’s not just a hollow but inaccurate comparison. Mark Kaufman at Mashable explain why with some expert advice:

When you broadcast Game of Thrones, the show is not broadcast to you from the type of giant data center used by healthcare companies, Facebook or banks, but from another type of data center called Content Delivery Network or CDN, explained Misra. These places physically store episodes so that program data can be sent efficiently and reliably to someone pressing play. CDNs simply copy information (like a TV show), instead of asking computers to encrypt numbers and search huge databases like Google’s data centers. “[CDNs] reproduce content anywhere in the world in places near you, “said Misra.

“The cost and carbon footprint (for example, Netflix) for streaming is quite low because most of the content that a user broadcasts is cached [stored] on nearby CDNs, ”agreed Tony Jebara, machine learning researcher and former computer scientist at Columbia University. “These costs decrease per flow steadily, so they disappear slowly and become minimal.”

If this kind of comparison could even be applied to cars, it would mean that more people who, for example, take LA freeways more efficient trip would be with inferior pollution – something well known is simply not the case.

So hey, if you’re feeling anxious about the environment the next time you go wild all night on the streaming media … be aware that you are certainly having less of an impact than going out for the night.

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