Netflix Takes Up a Third of Internet Bandwidth

Traffic shifting from computers to connected devices

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Netflix may have lost 800,000 subscribers last quarter, but there are still more than enough streaming fans left over to hog nearly a third of peak Internet bandwidth.

According to the 2011 Sandvine Global Internet Phenomena Report, Netflix is North America’s largest consumer of Internet bandwidth, creating 32 percent of peak downstream traffic, while its video-streaming component alone is responsible for almost 28 percent of all bandwidth usage.

Real-time entertainment services like Netflix and YouTube drive the most traffic, with video and music content creating the heaviest bandwidth consumption. In 2011, 60 percent of peak period downstream traffic was taken up by real-time entertainment—up from 50 percent in 2010 and 30 percent in 2009—while 96 percent of broadband subscribers used real-time entertainment each month.

Although Netflix holds the larger share of bandwidth, YouTube proved the more popular site. While Netflix has a monthly audience of 20 percent of broadband subscribers, 83 percent of those subscribers watch YouTube videos every month. YouTube also accounts for 34.5 percent of all videos streamed, while Netflix has just 5 percent.

Consumers’ viewing habits also vary greatly between the two services: Netflix viewers are 77 percent more likely to watch through a connected TV, while YouTube viewers spend 83 percent of their time watching on a PC. The median viewing time is also higher for Netflix than for YouTube videos—42 minutes compared to 3 minutes.

Internet traffic is increasingly shifting away from desktop devices like PCs and toward other connected devices like game consoles, smartphones, tablets, and set-top boxes, the study found. Now, just 45 percent of Internet traffic on fixed networks actually goes to laptops and desktop computers.

@adweekemma Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.