A new report from Sandvine, a Canadian online analytics company, claims that streaming video now accounts for more than 50 percent of all North American bandwidth. Although we’ve known for some time that streaming video takes up a tremendous amount of bandwidth, knowing that it makes up a majority of that bandwidth is still pretty amazing.

Netflix Reigns Supreme

The streaming king (Netflix) is responsible for 36.5 percent of North American bandwidth on its own. Its 41 million streaming subscribers each watch an average of 93 minutes of content per day. That’s 3,813,000,000 minutes of video—7,254 years—of video streamed every day on one streaming service. Netflix passed 20 percent of U.S. bandwidth in 2010, and while comparing U.S. to North American bandwidth isn’t exactly apples to apples, such a rapid increase isn’t something worth splitting hairs over.

YouTube takes up another 15.5 percent of North American bandwidth, and were it not for Netflix, that would be an incredibly impressive figure. According to YouTube, it has far more users than Netflix — more than a billion. These users collectively view hundreds of millions of hours of content each day, but the site doesn’t break that figure down by country or region. It doesn’t take much math to notice that each viewer watches less content than the average Netflix viewer, but that’s still a lot of cat videos.

Amazon Video and Hulu each account for just under 2 percent of bandwidth each. And while HBO GO and HBO Now aren’t big bandwidth players yet, it’s interesting to note that on one network, on one Sunday night, 4.1 percent of all bandwidth was devoted to “Game of Thrones.”

What’s Driving the Increase

Streaming video’s percentage of online bandwidth is likely to increase even more in the next few years. The trend is being driven by several factors.

• Increases in streaming video quality, and thus file size
• Additional video content, as entertainment studios produce new digital content and digitize older content
• New streaming providers, including PlayStation Vue, HBO Now, and Showtime’s upcoming streaming service
• Faster Internet connections that make HD video more practical
• Cord cutting and dissatisfaction with the current pay TV model
• The ubiquitous presence of video cameras in smartphones, and easy ways to upload personal video content to the web
• Increased adoption of TVs and gaming consoles designed to accommodate online streaming
• Apps that allow pay TV subscribers to view TV programming on mobile devices

Is This a Problem?

The trend is so strong that networking hardware giant Cisco Systems predicts that by 2019, video streaming will take up 80 percent of online bandwidth worldwide, and 85 percent of the bandwidth in the U.S. Cisco predicts total worldwide Internet traffic at that time to be 2 Zettabytes, meaning that streaming video will take up 160 trillion gigabytes of bandwidth.

Blog_Piechart_DLusage

At that rate, it’s not crazy to think that increases in streaming video could begin to outstrip infrastructure and bandwidth improvements. In Britain, lack of infrastructure improvements mean that bandwidth rationing could someday be a real problem.

We haven’t seen any such problems on a large scale, but streaming bandwidth demands have already led to smaller scale network problems. In Connecticut, administrators for the state government’s network blocked access to streaming video and audio sites after they discovered these sites were taking up 7 percent of the network’s available bandwidth. That was sufficient to slow consumer-facing government websites and applications. The effect on state government productivity—and resulting image problems—may have also been a factor.

What Are You Watching?

How much of this massive amount of bandwidth are you using? At this point, missing out on HD streaming video because your connection is too slow, lagging, or is unreliable for an enjoyable viewing experience is unacceptable. Even modestly-priced plans can now handle this level of bandwidth requirement for a single viewer, and better plans can let your whole family use the web on separate devices at the same time. If your plan can’t do that, it’s time to find a new provider or plan that can.

Or view all providers