The Internet is just a series of tubes -- for your Netflix and Pandora addictions, that is. According to quarterly data from traffic monitoring firm Sandvine, 70 percent of North American Internet traffic consists of streaming video and audio content, the highest percentage since Sandvine began tracking and more than double the percentage of five years ago, when audio and video accounted for less than 35 percent of North American web traffic.
“It further underscores both the growing role these streaming services play in the lives of subscribers and the need for service providers to have solutions to help deliver a quality experience when using them,” Sandvine CEO Dave Caputo said in a statement accompanying the numbers.
A number of services and sites have been responsible for a majority of the growth, none more so than Netflix. Today, the streaming video giant accounts for a larger share of North American Web traffic by itself (37 percent) than the total consumption of Web video and audio in 2010. It also has a sizable lead over YouTube, which despite being one of the most visited websites on the planet accounts for less than half (18 percent) of the Web traffic Netflix does.
This rapid acceleration derives from two things. The first is the adoption of streaming video. More than half of Americans currently say they stream video of some kind, and 75 percent of young people do so on their phones. Netflix has 42 million subscribers in the United States alone.
It is also being driven by viewers’ appetite for top-quality resolution and audio. Back when Netflix unveiled its streaming service, then called Netflix Instant, it offered a small number of high-definition titles. By 2013, more than half its library was available in HD quality, and it had unveiled a higher setting, called Super HD.
That move simply added Netflix to the list of companies that have been on a persistent march toward higher-quality picture and sound. Today, device manufacturers, along with film and television producers (Netflix included), have embraced ultrahigh definition or 4K video, which take up a lot more digital space than earlier file formats. A file of video footage captured in 4K will be nearly 10 times bigger than a file composed of video captured in standard definition.
Those two trends -- more people watching progressively higher-end video online -- are going to drive a truly mind-melting amount of video consumption in the coming years. According to research conducted by Cisco, nearly 1 million minutes of Web video will be streamed around the world every second by 2018.