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The Environmental Impact of Live Streaming in Singapore

1. Introduction

The environment has been subjected to severe pressure, with the Earth experiencing rapid global warming. The causes of global warming are numerous, but near the top of the list is the fact that electric power generation and consumption have become the largest overall human source of greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide. Currently, numerous economic activities calculated can only occur with the increasing demand from data centres and telecommunication networks and with significant energy requirement for data processing, storage, and transfer. Aware of the potential eco-impact, industrial players and governments have been trying to make the data centers and high-performance telecommunication resources more environmentally friendly by targeting and optimizing the power management for electronic devices. However, streaming media also account for a significant percentage of the data transfer task in real life, since users demand high-quality resolution and ultra-low latency, as well as increasing the bit and frame rates not only for e-sports but also in the case of professional real-time music and video processing applications. The mechanisms to handle QoE for e-sports applications, through device-to-device communication between the content broadcaster and the local viewers (thus able to save the server cost), even using the 5G network, are unlikely to reduce global CO2 emissions from streaming services.

Live streaming Singapore is a type of multimedia that is simultaneously recorded and broadcast in real time. In recent years, Singapore has seen an increase in popularity of e-sports and live stream service with the launch of notable local platforms such as Bigo Live and BeLive, China’s Huya and global giant Twitch. Twitch has been reported as one of the largest live streaming platforms for gamers in Western regions, serving as a community platform that allows for both consumption and production of game-related content. The proliferation of live streaming has generated significant interest among researchers who are keen to understand why people consume live streaming content. In recent years, the implications of live streaming also started to draw researchers’ attention with environmental concern being the focus due to the high energy consumption of streaming media over the Internet.

2. Overview of Live Streaming Services

Live streaming platforms are organizations that provide the business and technical infrastructure that facilitates live streaming. Live streaming platforms typically provide the following services: technical support for live streaming, channel management for producers and audiences, and monetization and remuneration for stakeholders. Because the production and distribution of live streaming content are deeply integrated, live streaming platforms also provide video hosting, ingestion, transcoding, stream management, and content delivery network services like other digital content distribution services. The live streaming platform is accompanied by the live streaming ecosystem, which comprises the other major stakeholders: producers, audiences, and advertisers. Producers are the individuals, groups, or organizations that create, own, and distribute live streaming content. Audiences are the consumers of the live streaming services. Advertisers are the organizations that purchase advertising space for products and services on the platform.

The introduction gives an overview of the live streaming ecosystem and the main actors. It explains the phenomenon of live streaming and provides context on the economic, technological, and societal trends that fuel it. Live streaming is the simultaneous recording and broadcasting of video content in real-time. It is different from other forms of video content, like television or video on-demand, where content is produced and then passed to an audience of viewers. In live streaming, the audience can respond and interact with the person or group in the video in real-time. Live streaming can be done through a mobile device, computer, or special-purpose live streaming device. The ubiquity of mobile devices has facilitated the rapid growth of live streaming. With a simple app, live streaming can let anyone become a broadcaster. Small professional organizations or ambitious amateurs can produce content and interact with audiences across the globe.

3. Environmental Impact of Live Streaming

To answer these questions, we quantitatively investigate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with live streaming in a tropical city with Singapore as a case study. In this study, we derive insights from a large-scale deployment of multiple environmental sensors. Specifically, we determine the amounts of energy, with the associated monetary and carbon cost, that the physical infrastructure in a selected location would consume around the clock, and identify the energy consumption pattern of the various constituent electronic systems when a live streaming event is performed and when the room is idle. This is accomplished by hierarchical data partitioning to understand the macro- and micro-embedding characteristics of single and multiple areas of interest. Then, upon addressing the practical concern from an ownership point of view, we compare the emission factor of the public infrastructure with that of the room.

Over the past 60 years, Singapore, an island city-state, has transformed from a third-world country with a then failing economy into a first-world country experiencing its infrastructure boom in the 2000s until today. As a result, businesses, with the support from the Singapore government, adapted and began to flourish. As an example, prime business locations are now located at Suntec City, Surbana Convention Centre, Marina Bay Sands, and many other such places. These commercial-grade infrastructures in Singapore today depend heavily on the constant operation of electronic systems to function effectively. However, the continuous operation of electronic systems consumes energy and generates heat, which is now recognized as one of the growing concerns of society’s impact on environmental sustainability. This concern has brought questions to the community: What exactly is our impact? How are the electronic systems affecting the globe? While an industry whitepaper has calculated, in physical, some environmental impacts of live streaming using a Touchstone Reports methodology, it has yet to provide a quantitative measurement that could hedge against greenhouse gas emissions to be set as a sustainability threshold.

3.1. Energy Consumption

Ultimately, server energy use is a function of a series lengths and number of revolutions, disk platter spinning speeds, rotational speed of the motor-off state, average full or idle power-use efficiency; networking energy use is a function of the size of the network, the complexity of the network, the routing protocol used (or in use), the associated data transfer rate, average full or idle power-use efficiency, the type and sizes of routers and switches; storage energy use is a function of the number and type of division devices and connection by interconnect or fabric type, the cells connection by interconnect or fabric type, the speed and size of high-speed total data (in bits or bytes) associated with storage technology type, the mode (active or idle) of the storage element, average full or idle power-use efficiency. Depending on the size of the service, the level of energy consumed can be tremendous.

The operation of a streaming server depends on factors such as server uptime, data transfer rates, file size, server software, server configuration, disk read/write speed, etc. and will also consist of other supporting processes. In data centers, power usage generally has three primary components: servers, networking, and storage. Coordinating servers correctly can substantially reduce the amount of energy used. For example, more sophisticated approaches to load balancing of servers (for instance, through mechanisms that predict or balance incoming traffic in a more distributed but global manner) allow for server utilization to be optimized.

The data utilized in my analysis are expressed in terms of energy, which can themselves be transformed from other forms of resources (an example could be “operation of streaming servers”).

3.2. Carbon Emissions

One major component of this carbon footprint is the energy usage of digital data centers. Digital data centers are a fundamental part of data infrastructure that forms part of the social responsibility of streaming platforms. By keeping live data centers running, live streaming activities have the potential to constantly consume energy. Hosted out of a data center and relaying to a push server or link transmitter, live streaming activities generate data traffic. This data infrastructure having store-and-forward functions includes push and link transmitters, and are part of the carbon footprint of live streaming. Push computes and caches content before forming the transmission broadcast. Jitter and latency reduction in live streaming contribution point insert compute content insertion into the frame and synchronizes the audio and video streams. Thus, we assert that for a full understanding of the environmental impact of live streaming, carbon emissions studies investigating server farm components such as data telecommunications activities are necessary.

While extensive attention has been dedicated in the entertainment media to whether live streaming creates an inauthentic platform, or that regulations and guidelines are necessary to distinguish between various video styles and devices, these studies lack a focus on the environmental impact that live streaming has. In sharing the urgency of reducing emissions from the tech industry, this paper examines the carbon footprint of live streaming in Singapore by quantifying the energy usage of digital data infrastructure and operational devices during live streaming activities.

Rising to prominence in the early 21st century, live streaming has exhibited significant growth, evolving from a niche social media subcategory to a popular platform. The global market for live streaming is expected to reach US$247 billion by 2026, with Asia Pacific representing the largest portion of this market. Fueling the live streaming ecosystem are content creators and platforms facilitating real-time interactions. Via the use of energy, live streaming contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, but emissions arising from live streaming activities are significantly understudied.

4. Case Study: Live Streaming in Singapore

The global internet traffic from live streaming platforms has surged during the pandemic, as live streaming has proved to be an efficient way for various businesses to reach their customers. While different forms of live streaming are prevalent globally, this chapter focuses on the live streaming platforms offering lifestyle services in Singapore, an island characterized by extreme population density and severe land scarcity. The demand for additional energy in live streaming comes from data communication, power-hungry data centers, and the use of often unnecessary newly designed blockchain and ledger technologies. Such resource requirements can pose a significant environmental burden. For one, a lot of data centers employ cooling systems that require significant amounts of water and thus carry high water stress footprints. Additionally, live streamers in large platforms burn up a great deal of server energy even while no one typically watches them.

5. Mitigation Strategies and Best Practices

5.3. Use of Localization and Alternative Formats The streaming model to be of current best practice is to provide an option to switch off ultra HD. Then the viewers themselves can reduce their detriment but still need awards. Also, where possible, it helps to localize content, including relevant topics for specific countries or regions, links to charitable donations, and local partners or local sponsorship adverts. Each of the four possible avenues has one named being quicker, cheaper, or easier to implement. Many could be engines of innovation in a greener, more sustainable future. It will also be acknowledged that some recommendations will involve a cost in terms of lower carrier rates or increased fuel burn due to the use of more complex streaming chains, from 4G to 5G, or constant-power draw for a constantly on, permanently reserving of bandwidth and continuity of service.

5.2. Green Designs It should be used as sparingly as possible because the recommendations involve more responsibility for the viewers. However, it means more effective—slightly more intrusive—green design components that must work efficiently are necessary.

5.1. Green Communications Least intrusive, but testified as being effective, is to communicate good practice, not least cause-effect actions. With viewer ownership, the broadcasters/production companies should nevertheless bear royalties for society. The customer is always right based on being informed. Four contexts communicate clear, public, and appropriate policies and procedures which affect enough or all. Responsible disclosure, addressing any environmental impact directly, see the environmental impact and choose to curtail or offset it. Monitoring and accumulation of relevant data, providing regular evidence-based updated assessment. Third-party certification of efforts to confirm their validity. The mechanisms are already familiar in many companies, just need adapting to sustainability programs.

Drawing from the above review, companies, broadcasters, and streaming providers should consider taking steps to lessen the environmental impacts of live streaming. Most of the mitigation efforts are an extension of good communication about what is being done and how to support the viewers in sustainable consumption choices through technology, and when necessary, regulator-led initiatives. There was a strong company-ownership theme. Companies have responsibility assigned to ensure their communication channels are true, understood, and that viewers have the information necessary to make greener choices.

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