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The Future of Sustainable Product Design in OTT Video

François Polarczyk

Sustainability Director

August 2, 2023


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We’ve just experienced the hottest July ever recorded and according to scientific analysis, it may have been the warmest month in 120,000 years. The effects of climate change are impossible to ignore. In response to the record temperatures recorded, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said “it is still possible to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5C, and avoid the very worst of climate change, but only with dramatic, immediate climate action”. To achieve net zero by 2050, we need to act urgently, across every industry, and at every level. Naturally, this includes the video industry and every component part of the media supply chain. 

Effectively reducing emissions across the entire video ecosystem will require actions at every stage of the chain. A wide range of factors all contribute to the carbon footprint of streaming video, right from device design and production, to OTT service development, engineering and design, as well as service providers infrastructure and data centers. Consumers’ viewing habits - especially in terms of the device and service settings they use - are another contributing factor. Yes, there are practical measures that OTT developers and providers can undertake now at a product design level to reduce energy consumption, but given the gravity of the situation, the industry needs to look at sustainability with both a shorter term and longer term lens. This means identifying creative new ways to reduce video streaming’s footprint. Can better UI and UX be leveraged to enable viewers to reduce their carbon impact? Will personalized carbon footprint trackers become a reality at scale? Is it possible that product design and sustainability converge with immersive technologies so that users can stream content with minimal energy usage but enjoy a massive immersive experience? The possibilities could, at least in theory, be endless.


How OTT product developers can make sustainable choices

But first: let’s take a look at what media companies can do in the shorter term. OTT product designers and developers have a critical role to play in facilitating industry change by truly prioritizing energy efficiency during the service development and design process. By collaborating with OTT product developers, service providers can enhance performance efficiency, reduce energy consumption, and also empower customers to use less energy. One essential aspect of sustainable product design is considering how energy efficiency differs across devices and factoring this into design decisions and optimizations. To maximize energy savings, engineers can introduce features that detect the user's streaming device and recommend more energy-efficient alternatives, if available. Product design can incorporate user-friendly notifications and prompts suggesting energy-saving tips, such as switching to more efficient devices, lowering backlight settings, reducing resolution, or turning on energy saving mode. Users could also be prompted to activate energy-saving modes and user-friendly interfaces can highlight energy-saving settings and provide clear instructions on how to adjust them.

The resolution of video streaming plays a significant role in energy consumption. While higher resolutions provide better quality, they also consume more energy, both on the device and server side. By developing features that dynamically adjust the streaming resolution based on device capabilities and network conditions, it’s possible to reduce unnecessary energy consumption.

The use of images also adds to page weight so naturally affects the performance and energy consumption of a service. Therefore, image optimization needs to be prioritized throughout the product development process. This means ensuring images are scaled appropriately, and that their file size is optimized using efficient formats and compression tools. Animations also add to page weight so it is generally good practice to avoid them unless they add meaningful value to the user experience - in which case, it is advisable to use the WEBP format, and opt for still keyframes and strategic fade-outs over looping animations. In summary, there are plenty of examples in the product development process where streaming service providers need to strike the right balance between a good UX and energy efficiency.


Sustainable product design: what the future may look like

Next, let’s consider where we want the industry to be headed. Design undoubtedly plays a critical part in providing a good UX, and enabling users to make sustainable choices when they use a streaming service. There is a lot that the viewers can do to consume content in more responsible and sustainable ways, and better or more innovative design elements can help them make the right decisions. Could we introduce new ways for consumers to interact with sustainable ads? And could design elements be leveraged to nudge them to be more sustainable in their viewing experiences?

We know that certain things within a streaming service are more energy efficient than others. For example, streaming content on smartphones and tablets consumes less energy than doing it on larger devices such as smart TVs. However, there is still a disconnect between user actions, energy usage and carbon impact. Users are unable to see the real impact of all their choices, because they don’t have the necessary tools. This is where personalized carbon footprint tracking comes in. In this vision of the future, users will have access to personalized trackers that show the environmental impact of their streaming activities. This tool could provide tips on how to reduce their footprint and offer incentives for eco-friendly viewing habits. Imagine if this went even further than content streaming, with personalized trackers communicating impact information to people in real time as they move around their connected homes and go about their daily activities.

AI will almost certainly have a key role to play in this kind of sustainable product design. With AI-driven tools, product UIs will be able to switch to eco mode automatically and optimize viewing experience during a streaming session, all while dynamically adjusting variables so that UX is not impacted. Another potential use for AI in the realm of sustainable product design is the creation of sustainability assistants designed to help users make better choices. Imagine an AI assistant that pops up to help the viewer decide which device to use for lower energy consumption. Or, if several users in a household are watching the same content, the AI sustainability assistant might suggest shared viewing as an alternative.  

OTT services also have the ability to influence viewers’ actions and opinions through the type of content that they consume. Content that has been sustainably produced, and that relates to environment storytelling to raise awareness and promote sustainability, is important and must be easily discoverable. From a design perspective, this aspect must be carefully considered.

Advertising is also an important aspect of influencing consumers actions and driving consumption, and broadcasters will need to start taking action to promote positive content through this medium.

Can the OTT services of tomorrow interact with users in non-conventional, and more sustainable ways? Positive impact advertising may be better served in new and engine forms to increase the likelihood of customers interacting with greener brands. These new models could see specific sponsorships of sustainable brands be promoted in new and innovative ways, such as with interactive advertising.


Designing a sustainable future for the media industry 

Could the future of sustainable product design involve the smallest energy efficient mobile devices being used to power vast immersive experiences? Battery powered AR glasses such as Xreal’s can already be used alongside a smartphone to deliver powerful immersive experiences. Just imagine what the future holds if sustainable product design blends with immersive technologies in a beautiful and harmonious way? Only time will tell but one thing is for certain and that is that it’s critical for the industry to move in the right direction and not wait until we have all the answers before acting.

Sustainable product design in the realm of video streaming is a crucial step towards creating a greener future. Product designers will clearly play a key role in driving forward change, to pave the way for more sustainable streaming. That said, the level of change needed will only be possible through collaboration and through leveraging emerging technologies. If the industry works together to successfully engage users in sustainability efforts, we can make significant strides in reducing streaming’s environmental impact. 

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