Is streaming bad for the environment?

Everything we do has an impact to the environment. It may be a minor impact, not worth talking about. Other things we do clearly have a pretty big impact. And, as we understand our place in this world, we tend to think differently about how our actions affect the future.

Streaming seems like it shouldn’t affect anything

Sitting at home watching a movie on your phone doesn’t seem like it could have a lot of effect on the environment. Certainly, it doesn’t seem like it would have as much effect as driving to a movie theater in your gas-powered SUV. After all, it’s just the energy used by your phone.

Yes, that’s true. But we tend to forget the energy that it takes to send that movie to your phone. If you read this article from EcoWatch, it’s really eye-opening. There’s a big cost in serving all that data from a data center. It’s not just the cost of the server itself, it’s the electricity and the cost of keeping that data center cool. It’s a lot more than you’d think.

There’s a meme out there that claims that an hour of Netflix viewing pollutes the same amount as burning a gallon of gas. That’s probably not true. There are too many variables in play to even make a statement like that. And really, it’s not equivalent. Data centers do take a lot of energy, but how that energy is produced varies greatly.

But streaming does take more energy than satellite TV. Let’s be honest about that.

Streaming is an on-demand medium. Even live TV streaming is essentially on demand. Every stream is an individual transaction between your device and a server somewhere. As you stream, you’re causing servers and network equipment all the way up and down the line. Energy gets used at every step.

On the other hand, satellite TV’s impact on the environment is a lot lower. Yes, there’s a broadcast center where content is aggregated and sent up to the satellite. The receiving equipment in your home takes energy too. But because satellite TV is a broadcast medium, the cost of the broadcast center is the same whether one person is watching or a million people are.

A broadcast medium?

Yes, there’s a difference. Broadcasting is the technology of putting something out there that anyone can receive passively. The internet may seem like broadcasting but it isn’t. Streaming is a constant two-way conversation between the receiving hardware and the server.

Save energy.  Choose satellite.

Satellite TV actually becomes more economical as more people use it. Streaming is less economical as more people use it. There’s a big difference. If you’re worried about your carbon footprint, choose to watch satellite TV instead of live streaming. The difference may be pretty small but if enough people do it, it can make a big difference.

And of course, if you’re considering satellite TV, please call the experts at Signal Connect, the installation and activation arm of Solid Signal. The number is 866-726-4182, and if it’s after East Coast business hours, just fill out the form below.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.