The carbon footprint of Media – Part 1: Digital and TV

BBC reports a 1.6 billion tons of greenhouse gas emitted globally in the process of running and serving our digital infrastructure. If we divide it among all internet users worldwide, it means 414 kg of carbon dioxide per user annually => that is the equivalent of driving 3.385 km with a recent car model, which is about one-third of what an average European driver covers in a year

So yes, this is a LOT and the industry can do more to reduce this impact. Before we present the options, let’s first set the scene.


  • What do the terms mean? 
  • Which type of media has the largest carbon footprint?
  • How to compare with others?
  • What can advertisers do to mitigate their carbon footprint?
  • What can you do as a consumer of these media to reduce your carbon footprint? 

What do the terms “greenhouse gas”, “climate change”, “carbon footprint” and “carbon neutral” mean? 

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) are gases that increase the Earth’s temperature due to their absorption of infrared radiation. Although some emissions are natural, the rate at which they are being produced has increased because of human activities (industry, construction, mining, transportation, etc.).The most common GHGs are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and many fluorinated gases.

Climate change: The increase of the Earth’s temperature is the main consequence of changes in our climate that not only raise the external temperature but generate extreme precipitation and acidification as well as warming of oceans, which changes the cycle of water. Climate change has been occurring since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1820s. 

Due to humans’ heavy reliance on fossil fuels, energy usage, and constant deforestation, the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is increasing, which makes greenhouse gas footprint harder to reduce. However, there are several ways to achieve this, for example by choosing more energy-efficient eating habits or household appliances, increasing the usage of fuel-efficient cars, and saving electricity.

Carbon footprint, or GHG footprint: A greenhouse gas footprint is the numerical quantity of the GHGs that a single entity or action emits. It can be calculated at any level of granularity (from individual action or product to the entire planet). The latest climate science findings were published in the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report which explains that the only way to avoid a temperature rise of 1.5 °C or 2 °C is to massively and immediately cut down greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon neutral: Carbon neutrality means the absence of GHG emissions in the atmosphere. It is generally achieved by avoiding or offsetting carbon emissions. 

Which type of media has the largest impact in terms of carbon footprint?

We will start this first part with TV, Video, Display, Print, and Social Media. A second article will follow with Out Of Home, Audio, and Emails.

Carbon footprint estimates are sensitive to many factors: 

  • Type of content: images, music, or videos. Every type of content watched has a different impact as it could be a fully fledged indoor setting with a lot of lighting involved or a reality TV adventure recorded from two small hand cameras or a selfie wheel on TikTok
  • Type of network: terrestrial, satellite, or mobile
  • The energy mix of the country where the content is consumed as energy is one of the main drivers of the GHGs emissions in Advertising. 

It is important to note that each study has its own method of calculation, and we can only recommend reading the analysis’ methodology behind the provided figures to get the full picture. Now let us take a look at the illustrations of the impact that our industry produces. 

Carbon footprint of watching TV 

For instance, the 2011 IEEE International Symposium on Sustainable Systems and Technology study estimates the carbon footprint of one hour of broadcast TV (terrestrial) at 88 gCO2eq per watcher. The carbon footprint includes both content production (12-35%) and distribution (10-28%) as well as the energy consumed by the TV set => it does not include the production of the TV device itself.  
A study conducted in 2021 gives the following estimates. It illustrates the great difference between individual European countries, essentially around the energy mix (the high proportion of fossil fuel energy is impacting the emissions drastically). The second factor is the use of internet protocols to serve video content, which requires an energy-hungry infrastructure. These estimates do not take into account the carbon footprint of device production. 

From the LoCaTe Project final report
  • Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT)
  • Over-the-top (OTT)
  • Managed Internet Protocol Television (IPTV)

Carbon footprint of watching streaming services

Streaming services such as Netflix, Youtube, Hulu, Prime, or TV+ are served through digital platforms. The Carbon Trust reports an average of around 56gCO2eq per hour of watching.

The Carbon Trust whitepaper includes a good illustration of the steps necessary to serve these services. The team based their estimate on these steps and differentiated taking into account the device connected: mobile, desktop, or TV.

From the Carbon Trust

The footprint (related specifically to the energy consumption by the viewing device) of watching content on a 50-inch TV is roughly 4.5 times that of watching on a laptop, and roughly 90 times that of watching on a smartphone. The researchers present the results broken down not only by the type of device but also depending on the quality of the image. The chart below shows how this quality factor actually impacts the GHGs emissions of the devices for different streaming services. 

From the Carbon Trust report

The figures for the conventional one indicate clearly that watching streaming services has more impact with smart TVs due to their higher energy consumption (TV sets manufacturing is not taken into account here). 

Carbon footprint of Social Media usage on mobile devices

Greenspector published a study in 2021 estimating the gCO2eq per one minute of usage on a Standard Smartphone (Samsung S7) with the staggering figures for TikTok: the estimated emissions reach  2.5gCO2eq per minute of usage versus only 0.46gCO2eq for YouTube (based on the energy mix in France and locations according to the methodology described here).

This translates into 180gCO2eq per hour on TikTok versus 27.6gCO2eq on Youtube. 

One factor with a great impact on the outcome of the calculation is the amount of data exchange generated by the consumption of content on mobile devices. As we have seen before, the data flow impacts the overall volume of GHGs emitted. 

With an average usage time of over 2 hours daily, Greenspector presents a total estimate of 60kgCO2eq per year per person. So teenagers spending Sundays binge watching (ok, 8 hours is binging for me) TikTok equates to 10km on an airplane. 

This study led to the creation of a social media usage calculator that one can check out here.

Carbon footprint of display campaigns

The estimated carbon footprint of a digital campaign, as demonstrated above, depends on the elements we wish to take into account: 

  • Production of the ad (from photo shooting to design)
  • Transmission of it (data centers and servers) based on creative weight
  • The platform where it is delivered (social media, publishers’ site on the open web)
  • Reception (based on the device to view the ad).

One can also argue that it could include: 

  • Website traffic generated by the campaign 
  • Product sales uplift generated by the campaign (in this case, including the carbon footprint of the product or service itself). 

Once again, carbon footprint estimation is a really complex topic so the best we can do is scratch the surface and provide a general idea of carbon footprint. There are multiple approaches and methodologies, and each one of them is unique. For instance, Mediacom and CO2Balance developed a carbon calculator for the UK market, covering OOH and digital but omitting data transmission. 

In parallel, the Good Loop is offering another model which relies on the energy mix as well as the size (e.g. in MB) and volume of impressions to provide an estimate of digital campaigns’ carbon footprint (considerations and limitations are not indicated). 

The calculator estimates that a 15,000,000 impressions campaign using a typical display format (let’s say a medium rectangle – 40 KB) equals 324kgCO2eq of emissions. When this campaign serves 1,500,000  30” video ads weighing 200 MB on Youtube, the carbon footprint reaches 162,000 kgCO2eq, or 162 tons of CO2 equivalent.

How many campaigns have you booked this year? 

How to compare with others?

According to The Nature Conservancy, the average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tCO2eq, one of the highest rates in the world. Globally, the average carbon footprint is closer to 4 tons.

Eurostat reported an average of 6.8tCO2eq per European in 2019.  

If you wish to compare yourself to any other benchmarks, do not hesitate to take a look at the Co2 of everything page. 

According to Ericsson, the total carbon emissions produced by the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry are equivalent to the volume of fuel consumed by the Airlines industry over a year. But the needs of the digital industry and its consumption volumes are growing at a much higher pace. 

What can advertisers do to mitigate their carbon footprint?

Although we are living in an increasingly digital world, the ICT sector remains at around 1.4% of the global carbon emissions. Its footprint could be reduced by a staggering 80% if the electricity it consumes came from renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels.

Generally, there are a few steps that can have a huge positive impact on the environment.

  1. Define low-carbon production guidelines: 

For instance, avoid shooting overseas when the team would have to travel by plane:

  • => hire a local team and work with them remotely 
  • => shoot in your country of origin
  • => international brands can localise shooting. 
  1. Reduce the weight of creatives:  The Shift Project has developed guidelines on how to reduce the weight of any videos. It applies to advertising as well: 
    • Limit the digital format weight – reduce the weight by avoiding HD ads or using technology to make your HD videos lighter. 
    • Shorter videos: cutting a 30’’ video down to 15’’ is already dividing your footprint by two.
  2. Compensate carbon emissions beyond the business ones:

As mentioned above, it is possible to compensate for any carbon impact that was already measured, or to decide to attribute a lump sum to offset further impact of the products or services; for instance by dedicating budgets to support innovation in carbon retention or cover beyond the carbon footprint of your own products or services. 

  1. Encourage your partners to use green energy:

As advertisers and agencies, you have the power to demand transparency over the energy use and ask providers about their progress in terms of emissions reduction. Every participant of this sector can start moving in the right direction, as The Trade Desk claims in the article they published a few days ago. Stewardship is a very efficient way to mitigate the overall impact of the industry, and it is essential that every actor practise a conscious approach. 

What can you do as a consumer of these media to reduce your carbon footprint? 

  1. Watch less video on the go – better view the videos when you are connected to WiFi.
  2. Change your mobile phone settings to a lower video resolution (SD versus 4k).
  3. Cancel autoplay of videos and close browser windows running videos in case they stay in the background. 
  4. Turn off your devices at the end of the day.
  5. Give yourself some “flight mode” breaks, 
  6. Why not erase your social apps from your phone

Cookie Life – Part 2: Targeting without third-party cookie

I wrote this article as part of a series published on the Mercury Media Technology GmbH blog.

To follow up on the status quo on cookieless future, we would do our first dive on cookieless targeting as it offers an opportunity to launch very quickly.

We will give here a quick look into what are these targeting options. How to leverage it properly and why contextual is the trendy solution that all media agencies are talking about.

Which targeting relies on what? What is targeting? Which targeting is affected by third-party cookies?

Definition Targeting

Targeting means the precise addressing of target groups in online marketing. The most important prerequisite for this is determining the target group in advance of any advertising campaign. Advertisers have numerous options to target an online campaign precisely.

To go back to the status quo article, I mentioned different targeting options currently in use. Let’s clarify which ones will remain alternatives in the future framework.

MMT - Cookieless advertising - targeting option without cookies
  • SocioDemo: using sociological and/or demographic characteristics to target eg. Age group would be possible via Cohorts / FloC or opt-in data. We will cover it in part 3
  • Geolocation: relating to the use of lat-long positioning of the device use, this relies on realtime data that can be deactivated but do not rely on third-party cookie. 
  • Behavioural: privacy laws also aim at the capacity to follow users from one site to another. So this will be affected by the loss of third-party cookies. 
  • Time/season based: based on external circumstances- e.g connected to the weather forecast, time of the day, or temperature, it is not affected by cookies. 
  • Contextual: based on the content of the hosting page, this is not influenced by cookies. 

Why contextual targeting is (once again) cool?

The name is explicit – advertising in context – car insurance presented on a blog presenting car model reviews and comparisons. It is not new, we even used it before the internet existed! Yes, the print channel had Interest titles which was a great opportunity to talk to niche audiences. It is still used for specialized products like hobby groups or sport material aficionados. 

It emerged in digital advertising in the same way as an offering to help focus advertising based on interest, digitally, it requires to employ a technology which recognizes index or “read” the content of the page to analyze its content and allocated it to a “context” group.

Google Adsense (created in 2003 thanks to the acquisition of Applied Semantics) is a good example of the usage of contextual advertising solutions based on keyword-indexing. It has its detractors as it also created an enormous volume of sites uniquely design to attract Adsense ads by aggregating some other sites’ content on a topic, not bringing particular quality to the market. 

The main benefit of contextual advertising is relevance: there is no need of knowing who the person is if you just need to know what she wishes. It is based on real-time interest instead of past behavioral data analysis. It increases the chance of conversion when approached properly (let’s talk about next) as it focuses on the theme of the content and not the person reading it, It is offering an alternative to all companies which have not started collecting their own customer’s data (let’s talk about that too). 

How to leverage the targeting options that are not relying on cookies?

As said, Google pushed back the end of third-party and many marketers sighed with relief. It is just an opportunity to ensure we do not fall behind. There is no time to waste in starting to develop internal knowledge of the most efficient channels for your brand outside of this cookie world. 

One essential solution entails allocating a budget for a clear test and learn approach potentially using the SMART framework: Your general objective remains to understand which targeting is the most relevant to create awareness or convert to sales (as both are important to run on a long term focus) 

  1. Establish hypothesis
  2. Determine how you will measure success
  3. Define a time and budget limit
  4. Assess results 
  5. Share learning

To make your “test and learn” budget in contextual advertising a success.

  • Adapt the creative to a contextual environment, relating to the right topic assignment rather than the consumer-centric approach.
  • Monitor closely the performance of each context and associated creative to learn which are the best matches.
  • Internal factors can play a role in each activity, do not hesitate to use granular monitoring solutions to deep dive into your results when needed.

For context

The scalability of the campaign also depends on the quality of the contextual sorting. IAB has released a list of general categories on which website pages can be classified. It offers an opportunity for any publisher to list itself in a category of content, but this is still generic. In contrast, the niche of a context can end up impossible to scale as not enough content will be available. 

Good AI leverage Natural Language Processing (NLP) can now determine the sentiment of the pages which reduces the risk of brands being presented against non-relevant or offensive content. It avoids excluding entire categories out of fear of falling against the wrong news (e.g. breaking news section, user-generated content such as reviews and forums). There are good pre-bid solutions now starting to be integrated as part of the brand safety offer of adservers. Check your options. 

For other external factors

Build your company knowledge of the influence of external factors by approaching such categories with solid test & learn hypotheses and structure including the creative drawing a clear picture of this option for you. Depending on your service or product, the advertising can be tested on:

  • Location 
  • Weather 
  • Time of the day 
  • Period of the year

It is worth paying attention to these factors when running campaigns, it can save you cash by adding an extra relevance layer to your campaigns. 

To close

Remaining independent from large providers is a strategic decision to make, whereas it is always possible to choose to rely on a walled garden solution to provide the required data to leverage. No company should feel doomed to adhere to the technological limitations dictated by the market. 

Alternative targeting does not rely on third-party cookies can yield great performances once the understanding of the best approach is integrated. As it relies not on consumer-centric data, it requires assimilating a new mechanic and that implies testing. As long as Google offers time for that, there is not a second to waste in starting to build knowledge.

The next stop will be, first-party data collection and leverage, stay tuned.


Right message at the right time – why is timing important ?

« there is a time and a place » for everything …

Over the last two months we mentioned the evolution of media and the importance of the message to be heard in a fragmented space. We now need to approach another important point of communications. Timing !

The Status quo is simple : No one can live without habits or our brain would be overloaded with permanent choices to make, a study says that we make 35,000 decisions per day that we need to prioritise. Everyone builds habits, patterns they follow in their daily routine, and that includes the media they trust to provide information and news.

When talking business and time together, we all have in mind « time is money » about the financial trade in general. It is not completely excluded of Communications as well, we can define for reasons for which time as to be taken into account for any marketing plans:

The objective of your communication influences its timing:

When one knows that the actions led by a communication will take a long time and will require planning to execute (for instance offline sales vs. online phone based registration), it is essential to understand the best timing for your clients to act – for exemple catch them on the way to the shop on the radio, with a SMS in front of the shop, or online when they search for ideas.

Modern platforms offer opportunity to adapt the message to the time of the day and the context

TV has always offered day-part copy rotation, digital communications increased a great level of flexibility including contextual adaptation. Morning advertising for a restaurant can push breakfast menu where evening could present today’s dinner special’s adapted to the type of audience.

Communicating all the time is expensive, observing right timing create efficiencies.

If your business have opening hours and your communications objectives if for people to call you, you may consider advertising during your opening hours only, or change your company client support system to adapt to the marketing campaign.

Catch your audience at the right moment for them to be open to receive the message.

Attention span is shorter, people are over exposed with thousands messages a day. It is necessary to cut through the clutter, but with what? If you have bigs bucks, the sprinkler approach works : you communicated all the time, which reach in mind to guarantee high repetition. If you do not have big bucks : choose your moment.
There is a space in which your place can be found in the routine, which would instil the message your company wish to pass.

Need any help to create efficiencies in your marketing plan?
Get in touch.

Stay tuned and do not hesitate to request more details.

Right message at the right time – is message more important ?

I worked a great deal of my professional carrier in media, because I love advertising and branding! I have been brought up with TV as the window to the wonders of the world. Great advertising ideas still remains in my memory: baseline that have been repeated so many times that still today they identify with the brands in my head.

When media vehicles were limited, just having budget to run ads would make the difference. Execution was limited : TV in 30s, one poster 4×3 and a portrait version for print…

When media vehicles were limited, just having budget to run ads would make the difference. Execution was limited : TV in 30s, one poster 4×3 and a portrait version for print…

Now media vehicles are fragmented, attention span is limited and the number of messages that people receive any day of the year are four fold : messaging counts way more.

Now media vehicles are fragmented, attention span is limited and the number of messages that people receive any day of the year are four fold : messaging counts way more.

It is not only the idea behind the creation, but also the delivery : the way the story is built.

For instance, TV messaging is usually build like a short movie : the emotional (or the problem + resolution) story unfolds over 25 sec until the big reveal over the last five sec – the brand / product.

Online videos are – on average – watched for just over 2 sec. Forget about the build up !

Pragmatism tells companies to put emphasis on brand presence and immediate rewards to encourage brand interest and/or intention to buy. It supports sell out on the short term, but it does not build brand loyalty on the long run.

Memory expert and world champions agree to say that it is mandatory to construct a story to memorise any type of information, even for a long string of unrelated figures.

Once again, it is about the story.

How does a story sink into someone’s brain? It completely depends on the objective and the people your business wishes to reach.

To brief properly a creative agency, you may want to provide them with the answers to the following questions :

  1. What is your objective : what do you want the audience to do?
  2. Who your audience: what are their values? their lifestyle? and the media they consume? where they would more likely do the action you wish them to do?
  3. How complex is your message?
  4. Which channel can you use to fill your objective?

It would help to define the specs that your story have to fill to get the right action from the right people. Do not hesitate to do A/B testing to select the most efficient approach to your goal.

Each channel has it set of rules and opportunity to think out of the box, but that would come as a future post. Please subscribe to be informed when the next story is published.

Stay tuned and do not hesitate to request more details.

What is Media vs Message ?

After a conversation on communications strategy with one of my clients, I realised it is not generally clear to businesses what the pillars of communications – media and advertising – are.

These are two distinct but intertwined elements that we are going to discuss over the next few posts covering:

  1. What is media vs. message ?
  2. The right message at the right time – what is the right message?
  3. The right message at the right time – when is the right time?

Just to clarify – let’s start with definitions :

‘Medium’ (singular of media) is the vehicle through which information is transmitted.

Any type of vehicles that carry information can be considered media that can influence our view of the world: publisher platforms, social media, word-of-mouth, goodies, branded content, sponsoring, endorsement, influencer program, video games… The number of media vehicles available not only have increased but their « quality » -or trustworthiness- vary greatly.

Graph of the evolution of media offer – based on a Perspective graph edited by Carat in 2008

Where ‘Message’ is the content that is transmitted.

Messages can take the form of news, educational content, stories, anecdotes, satires, propaganda, advertising, and so on…

What are the characteristics of Media?

  • Shelf-life: Each medium has a length of time impact: where an outdoor poster can stay up for a month to be seen 60 times by commuters. A social media post would have a few hours – if not minutes – of impact to be seen once by an audience.
  • Memorizing stickiness: Each vehicule needs a number of repetition before the message sticks, where 75% of cinema goers remember an ad in one shot, TV needs of 3 to 4 to reach the same.
  • Engagement: Each vehicle can instil specific action or response; like create curiosity, provoque a reaction, searching about a product, participating into a poll, keeping an information top of mind for a few hours, or just build trust.
  • Image: Each vehicle has a perceived image by the public: trustworthy, statutory, specialised, entertaining, the choice of media and so on..
  • Reach: Each medium has a particular capacity to reach an audience over a limited period on time.
  • Message complexity: Each vehicle carries a specific depth of details: where print permits long explanations, display ads allow only short headlines.

The combination of these characteristics plus the study of the audience to address is the basis for the media strategist to advise on the best vehicle to use for a specific communication objective.

Nowadays – with the fragmentation of media channels – it is sensible to involve the media agency into the creative process to ensure that the message is related in the relevant way for the environment.

This will be the topic in our next post, stay tuned.