Production & Post Global Viewpoint – February 2023

Measuring Sustainability

Sustainability is continuing to gain scrutiny in the broadcast arena. But what does sustainability really mean and how do we measure it?

Broadcasting is transitioning from a cottage industry to highly efficient infrastructures where more focus is being placed on optimizing workflows while maintaining the highest of video and audio quality standards. Equipment is much more reliable than it was even ten years ago due to the advances in technology and the proliferation of COTS infrastructure is seeing broadcast architectures highly commoditized.

Viewers are demanding more from their immersive experience resulting in larger screens and more powerful television sets. Not only does this have an impact on waste created but also on the amount of power a home consumes, especially when households have multiple television sets in one home.

Platforms, channels, and new ways of consuming media content seem to be appearing every week. Although many of these services are processed and delivered using cloud and datacenter technology, the high-speed nature of video, especially as we move to 4K and 8K, is using more and more electricity to power the infrastructure. And because a byproduct of the infrastructure is heat, then even more power is needed to run the air-conditioning systems to keep the IT equipment within its tight operational tolerances.

Software defined architectures are achieving much greater levels of efficiency than custom equipment as the hardware can be reused and in the more advanced systems is only switched on when needed. But one of the concerns when using public cloud is that broadcasters may need to keep servers on standby to guarantee their availability, even when not being used.

The UN World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. And the Greenhouse Gas Protocol has organized carbon emissions into three scopes with increasing degrees of inclusivity and carbon measure. Influenced by these two initiatives, many cloud service providers are now providing data for the energy used and carbon emissions created by their clients when using their services.

In recent years broadcasters are being subject to much greater carbon emission scrutiny from their license providers leading them to take a more proactive approach to sustainability. And this pressure is feeding its way through the whole supply chain. Broadcasters are asking for data not only on the efficiency of the equipment they are using, but also the whole supply chain of the vendor. This includes the operational efficiencies of their factories and datacenters, as well as those of their own suppliers.

Public cloud service providers and vendors are continuing to improve the visibility of their carbon emissions as well as reducing the amount of carbon they are creating. But there is still a long way to go. For example, broadcasters will often have their own datacenters, which will inevitably create a lot of heat, so why can’t this heat be used to maintain the temperature of their building?

Although broadcasters and service providers continue to reduce their carbon emissions, are we taking into consideration the whole delivery chain? Is it more efficient to distribute one-hundred services over fiber or through 5G? Has anybody measured this? And what about the effects of continually upgrading broadcast formats leading to viewers purchasing new equipment and discarding the old?

Broadcasting is making great progress in improving its green credentials, but to be truly effective, we must measure the whole procurement and delivery chain right up to the viewers eyes and ears.