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Ben Schwarz covers GoS at IBC in depth in The Flint

This article first appeared in the inaugural edition of The Flint in October 2023. It covered our meeting at IBC in depth, and while we shared a link about the launch of the Flint which contained links to the article, we felt it would be good to share the whole thing on our own blog.

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The Greening of IBC? Maybe next year 


Welcome to the inaugural edition of what will become a monthly deep dive into the Greening of Streaming’s ongoing industry-wide endeavors and explorations here on The Flint. I’ll share candid observations, challenge the status quo, and hopefully contribute to provoking much-needed dialogue about sustainability in streaming.


I’m writing on behalf of Greening of Streaming, but unless otherwise stated, these opinions are my own. In this premiere piece, the lens is fixed on September’s IBC Show in Amsterdam and the evolving themes we’re gearing up to unravel in subsequent dispatches. Was IBC 2023 really greener, or was it just a mirage?


Despite things going in the right direction, this year’s IBC Show wasn’t quite the watershed I had hoped for. My pre-show prediction that IBC 2023 would be the “Sustainability IBC” proved misguided. Although IBC’s website proudly proclaims its perennial commitment to sustainability and green initiatives (e.g., here), this dedication felt more like an emerging murmur amidst the clamor than the central theme.


Sure, booths had sporadic mentions of green initiatives, and some conference sessions were dotted with discussions on sustainability and broader ESG topics. But sustainability wasn’t the omnipresent theme as, for example, “Convergence” memorably was back at the 2001 NAB Show. My friend David Justin has been selecting two keywords for each IBC since 2018, and his 2023 choices were “gen AI” and “advertising,” with no mention of “green” or “sustainability” in his annual report.


Greening of Streaming’s entry & the resounding echoes


IBC was, however, a landmark for us at the Greening of Streaming, with Lisa Collins kindly enabling our exclusive session at the conference.


In this standing-room-only segment on the first day, we introduced the quartet of LESS Accord projects; you can get the presentation at www.greeningofstreaming.org/less.





The headlines of the four projects highlighted are:


  1. Intelligent distribution model shifting between unicast/P2P/net layer multicast

  2. Energy saved through “good enough” codec/ladder configuration

  3. Energy-aware workflows driven by “breadcrumb” metadata stamps

  4. Hardware and infrastructure optimization


Full video can be seen here:




Later in the weekend, on Sunday, Barbara Lange led a comprehensive three-hour sustainability panel series. Live attendance grew to around one hundred but diminished towards the close. Globo’s Manuel Belmar da Costa led the charge of ESG in the media sector, followed by Proximus Media House’s Larissa Goerner. A moving video from the Canadian Broadcasters for Sustainability highlighted their new pact for sustainability action in productions. An optimist would say they are all advocating the wishful transformation of entire companies into ESG ambassadors — a thought leaving the audience simmering with introspection: “How can I do that too?”


Clashes, insights, and the maverick perspective


Peter Siebert then hosted a panel featuring the media tech industry’s two closest friends, ATSC and DVB. The two trade organizations each described the efforts of their (separate) newly established sustainability working groups.


ATSC’s Madeleine Noland had a clear message that terrestrial broadcast towers reach 82% of people on the planet. She contended that these represent the most sustainable way of getting “big piles of data” to many devices, including things like game console updates. The pertinence of major live sports events on streaming platforms was severely tested, with both speakers concurring that streaming was not the way to go here.


Then, with his usual maverick hat on, Stratix Consulting’s Rudolf van der Berg pointedly disagreed, with an additional audience question asking what value the broadcast stack brings once a fiber-powered nationwide fixed and 4G/5G mobile network is fully deployed. The moderator and his panel got off lightly, as there wasn’t time to debate.


A thought-provoking panel followed, steered by production and media standards consultant — and BBC veteran — Andy Quested, with insights from HbbTV Chairman Vincent Grivet highlighting the aged yet surprisingly still pertinent LoCaT study findings that stated in 2020 that for an hour of viewing, at 14 Wh, broadcast was 8x more energy-efficient than streaming.


For whatever it’s worth, this data has the considerable merit of creating a discussion. I’m hopeful that the myriad organizations working on this, like the Greening of Streaming, will get the industry to a reasonable consensus so we can focus on fixing problems rather than just defining them.


Tom Moran of Lumen Technologies and Greening of Streaming founder Dom Robinson then illuminated the essence of energy proportionality and the urgent need to focus energy consumption, shedding light on the industry’s current capabilities or lack thereof. In the ensuing discourse, advertising, including video, was denounced as the main driver for overconsumption.


Additionally, the pertinence of carbon offsetting was — as is now more and more frequent — questioned, possibly masking the reality by mere greenwashing, which I learned is often called “beyond value-chain mitigation,” aka cheating.


Oh, and if any corporate decision-makers still have their heads in the sand, there are now several major population centers worldwide where it is impossible to open new data centers because of the lack of power on the grid in 2023! The other panelists in this lively session were Will Picket (Carnstone), Erik Reinhard (representing ITU-R), and Kristan Bullett (Humans Not Robots).


CO2e or kWh?


Before IBC, I had understood there to be a consensus that even if CO2e is what we ideally want to measure — because it’s what causes climate change — we must work in kWh for now as the only practical way forward and because it’s the only thing video engineers can effectively measure.


However, the debate on stage confused me in that CO2e was aptly presented as the by-product of energy. I understood this to imply that, ultimately, we should focus on kWh even if we could safely convert that to carbon emissions. I will have to drill down into this complex, confusing, and heated discussion in a future chronicle.


With my Greening of Streaming “Working Group 8” hat on, learning about the Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA) standardization of consumer device energy consumption was a silver lining in the next panel session from Doug Johnson, CTA’s Vice President of Emerging Technology Policy. However, their proposition to shield innovation and consumer choice on the sustainability journey raised some skeptical eyebrows, including mine. We need to discuss digital sobriety — including with consumers — and it must become part of a positive marketing discourse.


Other prevailing topics like FAST and the cloud echoed previous IBC narratives. The emphasis on AI emerged more prominently, raising concerns about its actual versus perceived efficacy and its environmental ramifications — AI has the potential to optimize many workflows’ energy consumption, but this remains a future promise. We don’t yet have reliable data, but desktop research points to a 10x rise in power requirements for a ChatGPT request — estimated in January to be between 2 to 4 Wh — from a search engine query to have been 0.3 Wh back in 2009 (old data indeed, but it can only have gone down since then). Our friend Thierry Fautier aptly talked about “AI-washing” in his IBC writeup.


Dissecting trends & faint murmurs


Id3as CMO Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen delineated five prevailing IBC trends in his IBC review. Like Thierry, he perceived the emergence of an old and new world in video tech but also noted the cost-savings imperative that permeated the discussions, burgeoning cloud concerns, and the AI evolution (or its “blah blah blah phase”). All the early IBC reports I’ve mentioned (from Thierry, Eric, and David) point to underlying financial pressure, which might explain part of our industry’s lethargy in embracing sustainability. Eric’s perception of a lessened sustainability hype diverged from my assessment. I believe the hype is still rising. If there is to be an IBC representing the sustainability turning point, it’ll be at the peak of inflated expectations and is yet to come. There’s (unfortunately) still some room for hype to grow before enlightenment comes. A collective awakening or a stern change in the regulatory environment could accelerate our collective realization that sustainability isn’t just another tech trend and would speed all this up. I hope I’ll soon no longer need to use the word “hype” associated with sustainability.


IBC 2023, poised for its green coming out, seemed to be wrestling with its green conscience instead. It left me wondering if the industry is in a sustainability slumber, with green declarations serving as comforting lullabies. The macroeconomic context is challenging, with layoffs already in sight. It’s time to understand the business case of going green. Stay tuned as we unravel more in future installments of these posts, and hopefully, by this time next year — or the year after — I’ll finally be writing about the sustainability IBC.


P.S. For many of us, IBC started on a sadder note this year with the sudden passing of Peter White, an industry veteran, maverick, and renewable energy advocate. It is thanks to Peter that we have the Faultline publication to call out industry greenwashing. It will be part of his enduring legacy.




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