Streaming dominates web traffic as torrenting declines sharply, study says

Sandvine study streaming rises torrenting piracy decline

Real-Time Entertainment traffic is escalating on the internet, with streaming becoming significantly more popular than old-school torrenting, says a report.


The web content genre of Real-Time Entertainment, which is basically streamed audio and video, currently makes up more than 70% of downstream traffic on North American fixed networks in the evening.

That's up from less than 35% five years ago, according to network policy company Sandvine's recent report on web traffic. The study used data collected in September and October 2015 from ISPs that voluntarily participate in Sandvine's research.


As one might guess, the study identified Netflix as the leading source of this traffic.

Sandvine estimated that Netflix grabs 37.1% of downstream traffic during its peak-time study period.

The others

But it's not all Netflix video traffic out there. YouTube, Amazon Video, and Hulu represent significant chunks of the internet's downloaded bytes.

YouTube sent more than 17.8% of all peak-period download traffic for fixed access accounts in North America. Plain old HTTP was second, with just over 6%, while Amazon Video produced 3.1% and Hulu made up over 2.5%.

What is Real-Time Entertainment?

Sandvine defines Real-Time Entertainment as "applications and protocols that allow on-demand entertainment that is consumed as it arrives."

It cites examples of "streamed or buffered audio and video, peer-casting, and specific streaming sites and services like Netflix." 

The end of torrenting?

Peer-to-peer network BitTorrent, once a major video provider with its historically oft-reported preponderance of copyright-infringed content, delivered only about 2.7% of traffic in the period involved in the study. For comparison, Apple's iTunes sent nearly 2.8%.

Interestingly, while all of the aforementioned commercial services increased their traffic when compared to previous Sandvine reports, BitTorrent's share notably declined.

Its aggregated (upload and download) 4.4% of total internet traffic found in Sandvine's most recent report is a significant drop from the 31% of total traffic the service drove in Sandvine's 2008 report.

During a period in 2014, it "accounted for over 7%," Sandvine says in the report.

That torrenting decline partly reflects success in consumer intellectual property education, a change in consumer attitude towards copyright, more convenient streamed entertainment industry offerings, and a possible sign that the Wild West days of digital media copyright infringement might be almost over.


Mobile is also entertainment-heavy. Forty percent of "downstream bytes" on mobile networks were for Real-Time Entertainment, although social networking was also significant for mobile.

Social networking overall represented just over 22% of peak period mobile traffic in North America, according to the study.

Social networking

Snapchat beat out all other services in the social networking area, including WhatsApp, according to Sandvine's report.

Social networking doesn't actually use much data in comparison to Sandvine's Real-Time Entertainment genre, so although social networking was beaten out by entertainment, the fact that social networking applications' data use showed so high at 22% "speaks to their popularity with subscribers," Sandvine says in the report.

Much advertising engagement is driven by video on social networks, so expect the number to rise in the future if these services continue their video push.


Interestingly for those in the IT industry, tunneling showed at about 7.5% of downstream traffic on mobile networks, and 8.1% aggregated (upload and download).

The Tunneling category includes, "Protocols and services that allow remote access to network resources or mask application identity," the report explained.

VPNs would fall into this category, as would remote desktops like PC Anywhere.

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