There’s been talk for years about the death of physical media for watching movies. Over the past year, that speculation and pontification has greatly intensified with the expansion of internet streaming services, especially Netflix. Proponents argue that soon, the very concept of using a physical disc to watch a movie will seem antiquated when instant-streaming services dominate the video market. But there’s still one big question that people seem to be ignoring in the midst of all this: Can the internet actually handle it?
A new article in TheStreet reveals what I found to be a shocking statistic. During peak usage hours, Netflix alone accounts for up to 20% of downstream internet traffic in North America. 20%! That’s just one company – one just barely on the cusp of rolling out its ambitious plans for moving to a streaming-only model. Now factor in all of its many bandwidth-hogging competitors such as Amazon, iTunes, HULU, Xbox Live, Playstation Network, VUDU, etc. Then think about everything else not movie- or TV-related that people use the internet for.
All of this video streaming requires massive amounts of data bandwidth. With that in mind, we must ask whether we have sufficient infrastructure in place to support these services as they continue to rapidly expand. The writer for TheStreet argues that we don’t. In fact, he goes so far as to suggest that Netflix could crash the internet in Canada, or even portions of the U.S.
That viewpoint may be a little extreme or paranoid. However, it’s clear that the more we rely on the internet to supply us with these bandwidth-hogging entertainment options, the more strain we place on an aging infrastructure that can’t keep up. Many internet providers already place bandwidth caps on their customers’ accounts. Others charge heavily for high-volume users. This sort of problem is only liable to get worse in the short run.