As an industry that touches both the emotional and practical aspects of our lives, media & entertainment (M&E) has a significant role to play in building and sustaining the net-zero economy. It has two primary responsibilities; like other industries, it must quickly reduce and, ultimately, eliminate its carbon footprint.

But its particular role in society also means it enjoys a unique opportunity to influence viewers, readers and consumers to adopt sustainable behaviors.

(For a full description of the net zero era and a field guide to navigating it, see our report “The Future of Us.”)

Why now?

Consumers, employees and new reporting requirements and regulations are pushing M&E companies to change how they do business. From publishing to studios to digital advertising, every company is feeling the heat, and for good reason—in publishing alone, the vast majority of the industry’s emissions result from manufacturing, transport and distribution.

Leading UK publishing group Hachette UK estimates that two-thirds of its carbon emissions are driven by paper, printing and binding. And when Penguin Books UK examined its environmental impact in 2019, it found that 33% of its carbon footprint came from printing and 41% from its use of paper. Few industries have done more than publishing to educate and inform people about the climate emergency; now, publishers must address their own impact.

Moving toward digital downloads of books, newspapers and journals does not necessarily translate into higher levels of sustainability. The more data we consume, the more energy we use, increasing our carbon footprint. If the internet were a country, it would be the seventh largest polluter in the world.

Streaming is also associated with substantial greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the energy used by 80 million views of “Birdbox,” the Netflix hit film, is estimated to be the equivalent of viewers driving over 146,000 miles. Studios have a direct climate impact, as well— from the energy needed to power sets, cameras, lighting and facilities to post-production and costumes, it all adds up.

Companies across the M&E industry are responding with urgent measures. For example, publishers have declared a five-point promise on climate action, The Book Chain Project. Netflix pledged to achieve zero GHG emissions by the end of 2022, while the BBC, Sky and Channel 4 in the UK have a net zero emissions target by 2030.

In film, Albert offers production carbon action plans, a carbon calculator to measure and understand carbon impact, and sustainable production certifications to showcase sustainable productions. Many fast movers have already committed to sustainable production. Netflix, Disney and Sony Pictures have also established the Green Production Guide to shrink the industry’s carbon footprint and environmental impact.

As a result, films such as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 saved almost US$400,000 by going green, and Tomorrowland followed a comprehensive zero-waste initiative. Some green production companies help studios reduce waste by assisting them with getting around sets by bike, using regenerative energy, buying second-hand and more.

What to look for

By assuming a position as builders of the circular economy, M&E companies have a unique opportunity to build solid business advantage while also driving sustainability beyond their own activities. By definition, a circular economy cannot be built by individual companies alone; it must be constructed across business ecosystems.

Leading companies will look across their value chains and address sustainability challenges at each step, often realizing substantial financial benefits along the way. The smartest way to do this is to start with low-hanging fruit: areas for which there is a compelling case for a new business model or that can benefit from a new technology that is mature enough to replace old ways of doing business.

For example, studios can partner with businesses such as Israeli company Deepdub or its UK rival Papercup, which use AI to dub actors’ voices to the highest human standards. This process not only slashes the time required for the dubbing process by several weeks and the associated costs by some 80%, but it also eliminates the need for additional travel, studio time and editing new audio into the video. Eliminating these and other steps cuts significant emissions along the way.

Another way studios are slashing their travel and other emissions through technology is by employing increasingly sophisticated computer-generated imagery (CGI) to transport an audience anywhere on the planet—or beyond—without the crew leaving the studio.

Addressing value-chain emissions is also becoming a far less dauting mission due to technology and collaboration. A new venture called Scope3 is working to represent emissions generated in a company’s supply chain. Scope3 intends to license its emissions data as a “universal currency” to advertisers, agencies and adtech companies, and make it available to publishers at no cost.

Then there is the entertainment industry’s unique ability to shape consumer behavior. Research from Goldsmiths University and Smart Meters+ found that 20% of British viewers feel encouraged to reduce energy use when they see TV characters modeling those behaviors. M&E companies can help audiences better understand the impact of their actions on the climate.

How to prepare

M&E businesses need to carefully analyze their value chain to understand where the fastest carbon cuts and associated financial gains are possible. For much of the industry, though, the source of significant emissions is the energy required to store and transmit massive amounts of data. Different solutions are possible here. Google famously slashed the amount of energy required to cool its data centers by 40% by applying machine learning tools developed by UK AI company DeepMind, which it acquired in 2014. It also uses seawater to reduce the amount of energy required to cool its servers in a data center in often snowy Finland.

In many cases, sustainability solutions will involve improving data governance and optimizing cloud use, such as reengineering processes and minimizing data duplication before shifting workloads to the new platform.

Technology can also help address emissions associated with video and audio streaming. We are currently working with a client to store lighter files and move part data at the heart of its streaming services to the edge of its networks. The result is a substantial reduction in both costs and carbon emissions and a higher quality of service delivery.

Lights, camera, climate action

Like most major players across the economy, leading M&E companies have pledged to achieve net-zero emissions in the coming years or decades. Those that move toward that target will also realize substantial financial gains and become more competitive.

By looking for areas in their own operations and value chains that are ripe for change and applying technology to cut emissions, M&E businesses can get ahead of the curve and prepare for further reductions down the line. Together with their role in educating the public, such measures will be the key to a prosperous and successful future for the M&E industry.

For our full report, read “The Future of Us.”

This article was written by Eduardo Plastino, Director at Cognizant Research, and David Ingham, Client Partner and Head of Cognizant’s Media, Entertainment & Sports practice.

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