By Ben Taylor.
You’ve probably lost a weekend (or three) to a Netflix binge, blazing through “House of Cards,” re-watching “Breaking Bad” or playing your favorite season of “The Office” on loop—a three-day carnival of cliffhangers, lost sleep and bad wine. Yes, you have a problem. No, you don’t need help.
The data says you’re not alone.
In 2015, over 36 percent of all Internet bandwidth in North America has come from Netflix streaming, more than the next eight biggest bandwidth hogs combined. The report comes from Sandvine, a networking equipment company that releases annual bandwidth statistics for all of the Web’s biggest players.
Note that the data only represents “downstream” bandwidth for “fixed access consumers.” In layman’s terms, that means we’re not counting upstream activity (ex: uploading your data to the cloud) and we’re focused on home and office Wi-Fi, not cellular network activity on 4G or LTE networks.
The rise of streaming services—such as Netflix for movies or Spotify for music—has claimed a variety of victims, from video rental giant Blockbuster to Apple’s 99¢-a-song iTunes Music Store. But it’s also taken a big bite out of BitTorrent.
For the uninitiated, BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer protocol that lets people share files with one another. While many BitTorrent use cases are perfectly legitimate, the protocol is infamous for allowing millions of people to illegally swap movie, TV and music files for free. By 2009, peer-to-peer file sharing (for which BitTorrent was the most popular protocol) accounted for roughly half of all Internet bandwidth—a massive community of (mostly illegal) file swapping.
Jump ahead to 2015, and BitTorrent has nearly fallen through the floor, snatching only 2.76% of the bandwidth pie.
With nearly unlimited TV, movies and music now available for $10 per month, it seems that most of North America has wandered back from illegal swapping to legal, affordable subscriptions. Throw in the dead simple interfaces for Hulu, Spotify and Apple Music, and it’s no wonder most people aren’t bothering with file sharing anymore. As Sandvine’s Dan Deeth put it in an interview with Mashable, “My mom doesn’t know how to use BitTorrent, but she sure knows how to use Netflix.”
Outside of Netflix and BitTorrent, other winners and losers emerge. YouTube remains the short-form-video streaming leader, but Facebook’s year-over-year growth suggests we’re in for a long-term tug-of-war between the two video giants. Apple also has reason to be bullish on its bandwidth, with Apple Music bolstering iTunes’ numbers, likely making up for the service’s decrease in individual song download activity.
Meanwhile, HTTP—which represents general web browsing—is down nearly 50 percent since last year. It’s likely that the proliferation of apps has eaten into the popularity of standard web pages. Increasingly, users are going straight to the service they need, rather than fiddling with Safari or Chrome in order to find the content.
That said, the methodology of the report may skew the results here. Given that Sandvine focuses only on “fixed access” (mostly home or office Wi-Fi), the report does not account for on-the-road, mobile browsing—activity that likely includes more general web browsing and less full-length movie watching.
For now, bandwidth is a slave to just a few masters, with Netflix and YouTube alone accounting for more than 50% of all North American online activity. But if BitTorrent can teach us any lesson, the pie could look a whole lot different in just a few years. If you’re skeptical, just ask the music industry.
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