Steps Towards Sustainability In Broadcast

As in so many industries debate within broadcast is turning to what may be required for broadcasters and producers to improve sustainability and raise their ESG scores?

Several technical papers on video sustainability were presented at IBC 2022. The following is a summary of what these papers said on the topic.

The 2015 UN Paris Agreement is a treaty on climate change that calls for reducing carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The treaty has produced myriad consultants, global consultancies, paid workshops, and independent projects to help companies meet or exceed treaty goals and improve Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) scores.

ESG is a proactive movement. An emerging class of ESG specialists has stepped into the industry supporting both net zero and carbon neutrality goals. There are a growing number of ESG rating agencies that assign ESG scores, as well as new and evolving reporting frameworks, all of which are improving the transparency and consistency of the ESG information that firms are reporting publicly (often called ESG Disclosure).

Some consultancy clients include broadcast leaders such as Sony, Hearst, Microsoft, Fox, MGM, NBC, NPR, AT&T, Verizon, and Intel to name but a few.

We’re Guilty

Some independent projects are think tanks. The Shift Project, for example is a non-profit French think tank advocating the shift to a post-carbon economy, dedicated to informing and influencing the debate on energy transition in Europe. According to The Shift Project, the total energy that goes into powering the internet’s data centers, servers and networks that stream video content generates 300 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to 1% of global emissions.

RampRate is a global advisory firm that estimates the carbon cost of viewing linear TV in the old-fashioned manner in 2018 was 62 million tons. Meanwhile in 2020, streaming video accounted for 19% of TV viewing, yet it was responsible for 31.6 million tons of CO2, essentially doubling the emissions caused by linear TV. These carbon cost figures are for the U.S. and are based on the 119 million households identified by Nielsen as homes in the U.S with TVs.

According to an IABM paper presented at IBC 2022 by Ian McDonough, Blackbird CEO, “Alarmingly, if that trend is extrapolated to the most affluent half of the world’s population (3.8 billion consumers), then this would equate to 3.6% of global emissions. That is nearly double the annual CO2 output of the global aviation industry.” He continued, “The Shift Project arrived at similar conclusions. It found that the share of digital technologies (servers, networks, terminals) in global greenhouse gas emissions increased from 2.5% to 3.7% between 2013 and 2019, and this footprint is predicted to double again by 2025.”

McDonough wrote, “Consider the carbon cost of a single email. It could be as minuscule as 0.3g of CO2, but if we all sent just one fewer email a day, it could save over 16,433 metric tons of carbon in a year. Imagine, then, the cost of transporting high bitrate video around. It is unnecessary, it is inefficient, and it is unsustainable. When we realize that every little bit counts, no matter how fractional, then awareness of the issue becomes part of the solution.”

He went on, “The industry is beginning to act. Amazon has committed to being net carbon zero by 2040. Google aims to be carbon-free by 2030, ensuring that its data centers are powered by renewable energy. Netflix says it purchases renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets to compensate for any energy that comes from fossil fuel sources. Content delivery network Akamai has pledged to power all its global operations with renewable energy by 2030.”

He also wrote “AT&T-owned European pay-TV broadcast group Sky aims to achieve net carbon neutrality in all of its production activity by 2030. Dozens of broadcasters and production companies —including the BBC, ITV, Endemol Shine Group and Warner Bros. — are members of Albert, an initiative set up by BAFTA to help reduce the amount of CO2 and to raise awareness of the environmental impact of program-making.”

Proxy Savings

In conventional production, including most current remote productions, all raw video feeds are transferred to the production center to be touched (such as adding graphics) before being transmitted. The vast majority of video acquired from multiple cameras at the event is transported over networks to the production center but does not form part of the final program.

By contrast, being able to work on high-quality “proxy” (copies) of the original video means less data is moved around. You just move the high bitrate content needed for publishing the final product, and you only need to do that once. There is no need to constantly upload and download video every time the program is manipulated prior to going to air. It is extremely carbon-efficient, so much so that the report suggests that for a two-week live event such as the Olympics, a browser-based solution using lower power can be six times more carbon efficient than other methods.

The transition to a browser-based solution starts by planning to make content accessible from anywhere. When content is freely available to certified team members from any internet-connected device, workflows and processes can be transformed. Workflows for content production for delivery to different outlets such as social, digital and broadcast will converge. Processes such as corporate branding and subtitling are automated in parallel. Greater efficiency reduces the transport of data and enables producers to create more content at less cost.

TV is responding. In its latest report, Albert reports that one hour of TV contributes the equivalent of 9.2 tCO2e/hr, which is a 10% drop from 10.2 tCO2e/hr in 2017. While the impact of many production activities has reduced significantly, the report also says carbon emissions from travel and transport have risen consistently between 2017 and 2019. 

Sustainability Key Is EVs And Shore Power

Cloudbass is a UK company with a fleet of OB trucks delivering more than 150 OBs per year. S. R. Knee, BSc(Hons), PGCLT, MA is with Cloudbass Multimedia Limited. His IBC 2022 technical paper was titled "Sustainability in the delivery of Outside Broadcasts - The road to carbon zero and why it isn't remote," and he makes an interesting point.

Knee makes a strong case for reducing the carbon footprint of OB productions by moving to all EV transportation, and using shore power with UPS and generator backup. He used data from Sky Sports because of their 2030 net zero commitment. Knee built two spreadsheets, one based on using gas and diesel fuel, the other using all EVs for transportation and connecting to shore power. Both listing ‘emitters’ such as staff and freelance vehicles, generators, and other carbon footprint sources. The lines and columns tracked each emitter’s CO2 output.

The spreadsheet shows that more than 74% of the carbon footprint of a 10 camera OB production is created by freelance and staff vehicles, and Semi-Truck cab diesel fuel, as well as power generation fuel. Moving to EVs and shore power eliminates nearly two tons of CO2 per OB. Evolving EV technology isn’t quite at the level necessary to pull a loaded 53’ OB production trailer over long distances, but its new era is coming to society at full speed.

Knee concluded, “The move to sustainable business practices is essential in all industries to combat the effects of climate change.”

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