In 2002, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing amounted to more than 60% of all web traffic, and fell to 31% five years ago according to Sandvine. Now, according to the most recent internet usage report, P2P traffic has dropped to as little as 10% of the total pool.
The shift from file sharing, which many entertainment and software companies believe is synonymous with “piracy”, has been accompanied by a full speed rise in sanctioned video streaming service traffic, with Netflix accounting for more than 31% of all web traffic and YouTube accounting for nearly 19% of all web traffic – totaling half of all downstream web traffic within North America.
It would appear that the convenience of high quality legal video streaming for a modest cost, where available, is preferred by consumers to the hassle of searching out files for free. It would also seem anecdotally that the high-profile prosecutions and campaigns to end digital piracy may have dissuaded some digital downloaders from seeking out “illegal” sources of entertainment.
Modern set top boxes, DVR convenience and other available technologies are also giving consumers easier access to the TV shows, movies, music and other digitized forms on entertainment they desire on demand. That increase in quality and convenience seems to be enough incentive enough for many to avoid risk of prosecution, when what they are looking for is already available legally for a just a few dollars.
This new paradigm is well underway in the developed economies of the Asia-Pacific region as well, with streaming entertainment accounting for 50% of downstream traffic and average data consumption at roughly double that of users in North America. In the UK, Netflix already accounts for 20% of downstream fixed network bandwidth, just two years after launching in the market.
ISPs are shifting strategies toward bundling immensely profitable entertainment products with their ISP services by attempting to eliminate Net Neutrality guidelines in a bid to bolster their own offerings or extract payments from content providers while attempting to move away from unlimited data service to charge consumers on a per-bit basis.
As the current traffic patterns cause companies to refocus their efforts, it seems the next battleground will be fought over the amount of consumption each customer can enjoy, the speed each site can provide, and the attempt by large entities to re-divide the pie – now that only 10% of the pie is being given away for free.