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The Dark Side Of The Tune: The Hidden Energy Cost Of Digital Music Consumption

11th October 2012 @ 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Venue: Fyvie Hall, University of Westminster

In September 2012, MusicTank published The Dark Side Of The Tune, a new report by Dagfinn Bach (President, Bach Technology) that highlighted an oft-overlooked fact about digital music consumption – its potentially spiraling energy cost.

The gradual decline of physical product might mean fewer CDs being manufactured and shipped (and resulting in a whole bundle of savings, from warehousing to distribution) but digital streams and downloads are not born magically from thin air. In Dagfinn’s own words: “Digital music is not distributed in an environmental vacuum.”

Indeed, the tracks and videos we pull down from ‘the cloud’ via services like Spotify, YouTube or Deezer are dependent upon a network of server farms and data centres. Arguably, we take this hidden infrastructure for granted.

Certainly, the energy they require is not insignificant. According to Bach, streaming an album of uncompressed WAV files just 27 times can use as much energy as the production and manufacturing of its CD equivalent.

Equally, he highlights the inefficiency of unlicensed file sharing over P2P networks – a method of consumption that could eat up to four times the annual combined electricity consumption of all UK households.

He isn’t the only one drawing attention to the environmental impact of the digital revolution. It has been estimated that the global ICT industry contributes as much greenhouse gas to the atmosphere as all the world’s airlines combined. In April 2012, Greenpeace published How Clean Is Your Cloud, naming and shaming tech corporations dependent on coal-powered data centres.

The main thrust of Dagfinn’s report, however, is to inspire further discussion – to kick the tyres of digital distribution, to question the sustainability of new consumption models and to debate possible energy-efficient solutions.

Joined by an impressive array of experts, this is precisely what we will be doing on October 11th.

Do ever more complex cloud, mobile and streaming services represent sustainable consumption models or do they present us with an environmentally unsustainable digital future?

Come join us in what promises to be a fascinating and thought-provoking event.

AGENDA

17:00-17:05 – Introduction: Keith Harris

2012 is a great time to be a music fan: we can access pretty much what we want, when we want, on the device of our choosing. And legally too! Increasingly, our CD collections – which we finished ripping in 2007 – have been shipped up to the attic.

The future, say analysts, is ‘post ownership’. It will be dominated by ‘access-based’ streaming services. YouTube already attracts 800m unique users each month.

As more of the world’s population come to own smart devices, this trend will no doubt continue – as will the ramifications for creative businesses.

But, by uncritically welcoming music’s future, are we ignoring some of the unintended consequences of change? Namely, the energy cost of digital distribution.

17:05-17:20 – Q&A: Dagfinn Bach and Eamonn Forde discuss The Dark Side Of The Tune

Questioned by music journalist Eamonn Forde, Dagfinn Bach discusses the reasoning behind his report and the key questions it raises.

17:25-17:40 – Presentation: The Big Picture

Published in October 2006, The Stern Review stated that global warming is the greatest threat to the world’s economic security. Its author, ex-World Bank economist Nicolas Stern, concluded that without immediate action to tackle climate change, the world would suffer environmental disasters equivalent to losing 5% of global GDP each year “now and forever”.  His solution? Resources amounting to 1% of global GDP should be dedicated each year to reducing greenhouse gases.  He also recommended that technology policy should drive the large-scale development and use of a range of low-carbon and high-efficiency products.

Six months earlier, in a much-publicised photoshoot, David Cameron took a dog-sleigh to the melting glaciers of Svalbard – promising, if he ever became Prime Minister, to support a levy targeted on carbon use.

In the intervening period, environmental concerns have hardly abated. Last month, one of the world’s leading ice experts predicted the final collapse of Arctic sea ice in summer months within four years. There is still no international agreement on combating climate change.

In what is a complex and controversial debate, we hear from Government about why green issues still matter and their impact on tech and industrial policy-making.

17:40-17:55 – Presentation  – TBC

17:55-18:10 – Presentation: Martin Bryant, Managing Editor Europe, The Next Web

Music consumption is evolving from the consumption of ‘units’ (vinyl, cassette, CD, the digital file…) towards a whole different set of metrics and micropayments. The Next Web’s Martin Bryant plots this trajectory and brings us up to speed with where technology is heading.

18:10-18:40 – BREAK

18:40-18:55 – Presentation – TBC

18:55-19:45 – Panel: Testing the hypothesis: new licensing models and solutions

Over recent years, music businesses have led the way with implementing environmental initiatives – whether cutting down on touring emissions, committing to greener festivals or ditching promo CDs.

But should the consumption of recorded music and digital distribution also be a concern?

Our panel of experts will discuss the hypothetical solutions raised by this MusicTank report and their practical application in what is still an emerging market:

1) Is caching an efficient solution for reducing data traffic from streaming, and should this become obligatory for all streaming services?

2) Should the industry simulate the use of P2P protocols for cached streaming and downloads, whereby a user requesting content will be serviced from another user with the same content and from one who is geographically closest to the requesting user?

3) Should streamed data be restricted to new and dynamic info, while the core music file itself be preloaded or downloaded/cached once only?

4) Should data traffic be taxed in order to reduce data overload?

19:45-20:30 – The Long View

Drawing on the evening’s discussions, we conclude what role – if any – the music business can play in making digital music consumption more sustainable.

With the vast majority of digital music services walking on a financial precipice, do we even afford to worry about these issues?

Or are they the responsibility of ‘Big Tech’ – the ISPs, the hardware manufacturers and US titans like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

And, given Dagfinn’s emphasis of the urgent need for greater research on the environmental impact of digital consumption, we ask perhaps the most significant question of all: what next?

20:30-21:00 – Networking/Close 

*NB: conference timings are subject to change*

You can find resources from this event via the links below.

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