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How much does it cost the planet and your pocket to watch your favourite shows on Netflix?
Since streaming has become the main way many of us watch TV, binge-watching has never been easier. We can now sift through a near endless list of top-quality shows and have the complete “boxset” available at the click of a button.
It’s no secret that subscription streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Disney Plus offer fantastic value for money considering the number of shows and movies they give us access to. However, it’s easy to forget about the amount of electricity that bingeing all those episodes can consume.
This made us wonder just how much the energy consumption of watching our favourite shows can cost us, as well as how much CO2 is produced as a result. To get to the bottom of this, we conducted a short study looking to calculate the energy cost and CO2 pollution produced by 40 of the most popular shows on Netflix.
The cost of streaming in the UK
We looked at 40 of the best shows on Netflix according to TimeOut Magazine, recording the total length of all seasons and episodes for each one. We were then able to calculate the total amount of energy that the average TV and router would use to play the entirety of each show. This revealed how much they would cost us to watch.
Bear in mind that these average energy prices were taken prior to the recent price hikes seen so far in 2022, therefore, it could cost even more to binge-watch these shows in the present day.
We also calculated how much CO2 would be produced from watching our favourite shows. The European Environment Agency states that the average mature tree absorbs approximately 22 kg of CO2 per year, and as watching all 40 of the selected TV shows would produce just shy of 11 kg of CO2, it would take a single tree about 6 months to remove those emissions from the atmosphere.
When you consider how many thousands of times these shows have been viewed and how many other shows are out there, the number of trees needed to remove all that CO2 is enormous!
1. Orange is the New Black Runtime: 91 hours
Cost to watch: £1.32 CO2 Emissions: 1.043 kg
Orange is the New Black, or OITNB for short, took audiences by storm when it first aired in 2013 and kept audiences captivated for 7 seasons until it finally stopped airing in 2019. The show follows the lives of several female inmates of Litchfield Penitentiary, a fictional prison in New York, depicting how they have to adapt to survive life behind bars.
With a total cumulative runtime of 91 hours, this show is quite the commitment for any first-time viewer. This long runtime means that watching all of OITNB will use the most energy, which we calculated would cost you £1.32 and produce 1.043 kg of CO2 before you finish the last episode.
2. House of Cards Runtime: 60.82 hours
Cost to watch: £0.88 CO2 Emissions: 0.6971 kg
The first few seasons of House of Cards was a runaway success, following the dastardly plots of Frank Underwood in his quest for political power, and ultimately the Presidency of the United States. However, the show’s rating began to slip slightly, due to the lead actor Kevin Spacey becoming the subject of multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, leading to his departure from the show and his character’s wife taking centre stage.
House of Cards spans 6 seasons, running from 2013 to 2018, and has a total runtime of 60.82 hours. The electricity cost of watching the entire show would be £0.88, while 0.6971 kg of CO2 would also be produced.
3. Narcos & Narcos: Mexico Runtine: 53.5 hours
Cost to watch: £0.78 CO2 Emissions: 0.6132 kg
Narcos is a highly successful Netflix series that tells the story of Pablo Escobar and the DEA’s struggle to shut down the infamous Cali drugs cartel. Running for 3 seasons from 2015 to 2017, its success led to a sequel show Narcos: Mexico, which focuses on the Mexican drug war of the 1980s and the rise of the Guadalajara cartel.
With a total combined runtime of 53.5 hours, watching all of Narcos and its sequel would cost £0.78 in electricity, and produce 0.6131 kg of CO2.
Comparing the cost of streaming between countries
As the cost of electricity can vary significantly from country to country, as well as the amount of CO2 released when generating the energy, we wanted to find out which countries are the best and worst for energy prices and pollution.
Using the longest TV show in our study, Orange is the New Black, we were able to calculate the cost and CO2 emissions of watching all 91 hours of the iconic prison drama. Below you can see some basic stats we used that did not vary between countries
Here we can see which countries have the most expensive electricity, and how much it would cost to watch all episodes of Orange is the New Black.
GBP per kwh: 0.280 Cost to watch OITNB: £1.70
Denmark has the most expensive electricity at GBP0.280 per kwh. This means that watching all 91 hours of Orange is the New Black would cost the viewer £1.70 for the electricity used.
GBP per kwh: 0.268 Cost to watch OITNB: £1.62
In second place is Germany, with electricity costing GBP 0.268 per kwh, meaning it would cost £1.62 to watch all of OITNB.
GBP per kwh: 0.246 Cost to watch OITNB: £1.49
Belgium ranks in third place, with its energy priced at GBP0.246, which would make a complete watch of OITNB cost £1.49.
In this section, we can see the CO2 released per kwh of electricity in each country, as well as how much would be produced by watching all of Orange is the New Black.
1. South Africa
CO2 per kwh: 0.3319 kg CO2 from watching OITNB: 2.0115 kg
South Africa emits the most CO2 per kwh of energy produced at 0.3319 kg. As Orange is the New Black lasts a total of 91 hours, a complete watch of every season would see 2.0115 kg of C02 released into the atmosphere.
CO2 per kwh: 0.2780 kg CO2 from watching OITNB: 1.6848 kg
The country with the second highest level of CO2 emissions per kwh of energy produced is Indonesia, with 0.2780 kg. Applying this to a full binge of OITNB would see 1.6848 kg of CO2 emissions produced.
CO2 per kwh: 0.2748 kg CO2 from watching OITNB: 1.6655 kg
In third place, with a single kwh of electricity-producing 0.2748 kg of CO2, is India. If you were to watch all of OITNB in this country, then you’d emit a total of 1.6655 kg of CO2.
We wanted to highlight how much energy it takes to stream TV shows at home. To do this, we took a list of TimeOut Magazine’s 40 best Netflix shows to binge-watch, and aimed to combine this with energy consumption, cost and emissions data to build a broad picture of the issue.
First of all, we figured out how much electricity it takes to power the average TV and router. For data on the average TV power consumption, we went to Eco Cost Savings. For the power consumption of the average router, we used Sust-It. We combined these figures and found that running the average TV and router would use 66.6 kw, or 0.0666 kw, per hour.
Next, we used data from tiii.com to find the total runtime of each show in our list. We took the total number of hours that each show lasts and multiplied it by 0.0666 to find the total kwh used by each Netflix show.
We then collected electricity price data from Global Petrol Prices, as well as data for CO2 emissions generated per kwh of electricity produced from Our World in Data. To build an international view of electricity prices and emissions, we collected this data for 50 different countries including OECD, EU and G20 nations, as well as several other large economies. Some countries, such as China and Russia, were not included as Netflix does not service those locations.
We then used the longest-running show in our study, Orange is the New Black, as an example and control variable to allow us to compare the cost of binge-watching a Netflix show in all 50 countries, while also allowing us to compare relative emissions rates.
We also used information from the European Environment Agency to find out how much CO2 a mature tree absorbs in a single year, and compared this to projected CO2 emissions produced by watching all 40 of the shows in our study.