Video is eating the Web.
Already, we know that Netflix accounts for one-third of Internet traffic at peak hours. Toss in YouTube, and that figure rises to roughly half of all bandwidth consumed. But even that's small potatoes compared with what's coming. In five years, 80 percent of the entire world's Internet consumption will be dominated by video. That number will be even higher in the United States, approaching 85 percent.
That's according to the latest projections from Cisco, which publishes an annual study peering into the near future of the Web. The newest report, out Wednesday, predicts that by 2019, the Internet will have become more or less a big video pipe. Part of the growth will come from adding new people to the Internet — for the first time, over half the world's population will be digitally connected. But individual Internet users are also expected to consume more video over time, and at a higher quality, which will put tremendous new burdens on the world's Internet infrastructure.
"The cord-cutting household [consumes] more than twice as much data per month as non-cord-cutters," said Robert Pepper, Cisco's vice president of global technology policy.
When you see the Internet as a huge distribution channel for video, it puts virtually everything that tech and communications companies are doing into perspective. Telecom firms like Verizon are racing to expand their cellular networks so that they can deliver video over LTE. Cable companies are fleshing out their public WiFi hotspots so users can watch videos outside their homes. Content providers like HBO and CBS are putting their programming on the Internet so that customers don't have to be tethered to their television sets.
Implicit in this idea is that mobile devices will be the primary way users will access all this video. And researchers agree on that point. Five years ago, Americans were spending less than an hour a day on mobile devices. Today, it's more like three hours a day, accounting for more than half of the time we spend consuming digital media in general, according to the latest in an annual report released Wednesday by Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker.
Video — and mobile video in particular — is already throwing entire industries together in unprecedented ways. It's this convergence of media and entertainment onto smart, Web-enabled devices that prompted regulators to fret about Comcast's potential power over businesses in the streaming video space — and what in turn led to the collapse of its mega-merger with Time Warner Cable. Online video has already shaped the course of corporate history, and now it's about to define the future, too.