How Much Data Does Streaming Use in 2021? - Audio and Video
Updated: June 14,2022
The advent and growth of popular streaming services like Netflix, Spotify, and Twitch, coupled with advancements in internet technology, made streaming the most used method of accessing media content.
Streaming is now more prevalent than traditional downloading but at a cost - data. This might seem like a nonissue if you have an unlimited data plan. However, a considerable number of people still have bandwidth-capped plans, and unlimited data on mobile devices is still extremely rare.
So, how much data does streaming use? Before crunching the actual numbers, let’s take a look at some data usage statistics first.
A Bandwidth-Hungry World
Streaming giants were growing exponentially even before the pandemic hit. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 forced millions of people to stay home. Under such circumstances, people turned to streaming their favorite content, especially Netflix, using this activity both as a pastime and as a source of comfort.
Let's see what portion of global internet usage this and other streaming platforms pull before we tackle the question “How much data does streaming Netflix use?”
According to internet usage statistics, Netflix used to account for more than a quarter of all downpour video traffic. In 2019, however, this share fell to 12.6%, but only because Netflix was overshadowed by other web streaming services.
Accompanying our streaming needs is our hunger for more bandwidth. OpenVault’s Q3 2020 Broadband Insights Report reveals that 8.8% of broadband users consumed more than 1 TB of data per month, which is twice as many people compared to the year before. This information on audio and video streaming data usage primarily ties into the fact that the coronavirus led to an increased amount of time spent video streaming, which grew by up to 40% in some countries.
When it comes to the audio sector, COVID-19’s impact on music streaming has been described as neutral or even negative. Nonetheless, the sector has been experiencing steady growth over the years.
All this data tells us that we’re streaming more content - and using more bandwidth - than ever. Now, let’s move on to how much internet data usage streaming different kinds of content comes with.
How Much Data Does Streaming Music Use?
Compared to video streaming examples, especially longer, high-resolution videos like movies, music streaming uses a minuscule amount of bandwidth. However, we are more likely to stream music on our phones, which usually come with much more restrictive data usage plans. On top of that, people tend to stream music more often - and sometimes for longer periods - than video content. Be it at home, while jogging, or during a commute, music is often our faithful companion.
Spotify dominates the audio-only streaming world, with Deezer and Soundcloud fighting for their piece of the cake as well. Thankfully, Spotify data usage is pretty similar to the music streaming data usage of its competitors, as most music streaming platforms classify audio quality in a similar fashion.
Each tier of audio quality comes with a different bit rate and bandwidth usage average:
- Low quality - Comes with a bit rate of 96 Kbps, using 0.72 MB a minute or 43.2 MB every hour.
- Medium quality - Usually has a 160 Kbps bit rate, which translates to 1.20 MB bandwidth usage every minute or 72 MB per hour.
- High quality - 320 Kbps or slightly higher rate, ‘costing’ 2.40 MB per minute and 144 MB per hour.
Do note that these are average figures, which may slightly differ depending on the streaming platform. Hence, the answer to “How much data does audio streaming use?” may also vary slightly. For example, looking at Spotify data usage, the platform’s very high audio quality (reserved solely for premium users) can use up to 150 MB per hour.
Additionally, most of the more robust streaming services offer adaptive audio quality, meaning that it will go up or down depending on your internet connection.
By running the figures mentioned above through a data usage calculator, we can arrive at an approximation of how much music you’ll be able to stream with different data plans.
How Much Data Does Music Streaming Use Expressed in Hours?
- A 2 GB data plan will provide you with:
- 47 hours of low-quality audio
- 28 hours of medium-quality audio
- 17 hours of HQ audio
A 5 GB data plan will give you the following amount of music listening:
- 117 hours of low-quality audio
- 70 hours of medium-quality audio
- 42.5 hours of HQ audio
Finally, based on internet data usage numbers, a 10 GB data plan gets you:
- 234 hours of low-quality audio
- 140 hours of medium-quality audio
- 85 hours of HQ audio
All in all, music streaming won’t drain your data plan super quickly. However, bandwidth usage can add up over time, especially if you’re a dedicated music lover or audiophile sticking to the highest-quality audio.
How Much Data Does Streaming Use? - Video
We’ve seen how much bandwidth audio streaming uses. While the overall usage when streaming music can become data-heavy, video streaming is naturally even more bandwidth-intensive.
It’s important to note that there are many video streaming platforms with varying types of content and, therefore, available video quality. For example, with Netflix being a dedicated service for watching video content (TV shows and movies), both the platform and its users strive for the highest possible video quality.
On the other hand, platforms like YouTube hold a lot of audio-only content with placeholder videos or types of content where video quality is not as important as the sound.
The best approach to accurately answer the question “How much data does streaming videos use?” is to look at both the general bandwidth usage for video streaming and the video quality settings and data appetite of specific streaming platforms.
Here are the averages for video streaming data usage:
- Ultra-low quality video in the 240p-340p area consumes, on average, 300 MB each hour.
- The default video quality on YouTube, 480p, will spend 700 MB hourly.
- HD quality videos of 720p use 0.9 GB per hour.
- The second tier of HD videos - those of 1080p - will drain around 1.5 GB for every hour streamed.
- 2K videos bring the hourly bandwidth usage to 3 GB.
- Lastly, UHD or 4K streaming data usage records a whooping 7.2 GB each hour, so it’s probably best to select this video quality only when using uncapped plans.
As you can see, video streaming can be extremely bandwidth-intensive. Capped data plans are pretty unsuitable for HQ streaming. Even with a 10 GB plan, streaming 4K videos is not a very good idea, as you’ll eat through your monthly cap in an hour and a half.
Similar to music streaming services, video platforms are also very good at providing adaptive stream quality. The platforms will automatically adjust video quality based on the current strength of your connection, aiming to provide a ‘hiccupless’ experience to users.
Netflix Streaming Bandwidth Usage
Moving on to the question “How much data does Netflix streaming use?” you’ll see that the answer is fairly similar to the general video streaming data usage figures we provided above. The slight differences in data consumption tied to Netflix quality settings are shown below:
- Standard-definition (SD) video streaming on Netflix uses 1 GB of data each hour.
- High-definition streaming will consume 3 GB of bandwidth per hour.
- In case you want to stream 4K videos, be prepared to spend 7 GB of data every hour.
For those wondering whether it pays off to just download a video from Netflix instead of streaming it, it does not - according to Netflix itself - as it will consume the same amount of data.
YouTube Streaming Bandwidth Usage
YouTube TV data usage is generally in the same ballpark as Netflix. However, as already mentioned, it features a lot of content you won’t necessarily want to stream in high quality.
As relevant YouTube statistics show, this is an incredibly popular platform. Hence, users should familiarize themselves with how much data they'll spend using its services. YouTube’s data streaming ‘costs’ are:
- 480p - 264 MB per hour
- 720p - 870 MB per hour
- 1080p - 1.65 GB per hour
- 4K - 2.7 GB per hour
Note that these figures can change, as all platforms aim to keep up with both advancing technologies and progressively faster internet connections.
YouTube TV streaming quality settings also feature the ‘Auto’ option, which adjusts video quality to your current connection strength.
How Much Data Does Twitch Streaming Use?
Our next topic is Twitch’s bandwidth usage. Twitch, as you probably know, is a streaming platform mainly targeted at gamers. However, similarly to Discord, it outgrew its initial niche, becoming a home for an immense variety of content. Besides short clips, Twitch content usually revolves around hours-long streams. Therefore, an internet data usage calculator for Twitch is more than useful, as avid fans of the platform will surely spend hours upon hours watching their favorite streamers. This, of course, translates into potentially heavy bandwidth usage, especially when streaming on mobile devices.
However, it’s important to make a distinction between streamers and those just watching streams when answering the question “How much data does streaming on Twitch use?” Streamers have to look out for both upload and download data usage as they are the ones publishing the content. Additionally, if they stream themselves playing an online video game, they’ll burn up even more bandwidth.
First, let’s go over the average data usage numbers for Twitch streamers:
- 240p - 225 MB per hour
- 360p - 270 MB to 360 MB per hour
- 480p - 405 MB to 540 MB per hour
- 720p - 800 MB to 1.1 GB per hour
- 1080p - 1.3 GB to 1.57 GB per hour
How much data does streaming use when you’re just watching content on Twitch? Here are the numbers:
- 240p to 320p - 300 MB per hour
- 480p - 700 MB per hour
- 720p - 900 MB per hour
- 1080p - 1.5 GB per hour
- 2K - 3 GB per hour
- 4K - 7.2 GB per hour
As the data we’ve presented shows, streaming either audio or video can become pretty bandwidth-intensive. While a small number of people are at risk of running out of their data if they only stream music, with a fairly limited data plan, even such minor streaming activities won’t leave too much space for other daily internet activities.
Streaming data usage for videos can definitely leave you with little to no data left if you’re not careful. All the problems related to streaming high-def videos would be practically nonexistent if data caps were generally higher or removed. However, the sad truth is that in a lot of countries, even highly-developed ones like the US, ISPs offer incredibly limited packages unless competition or government regulation forces them to do better.
Hopefully, the information we’ve laid out here will help you calculate how much you can stream with the data plan you have.
Frequently Asked Questions
The available data on hours of video per GB tells us that, on average, standard-definition quality movies lasting two hours are roughly 2 GB in size.
For video, SD quality consumes roughly 1 GB of data per hour, while medium-quality audio (160 Kbps) uses around 72 MB per hour.
On Netflix and similar services, a one-hour episode in SD uses around 1 GB of data.
If you use the data on average media consumer practices to answer “How much data does streaming use monthly?” you’ll see that the average person consumes 2.9 GB of streaming-related data each month. However, the information is from 2019, and the number is now probably significantly higher.
That depends on what and how much you stream. If you were to watch two episodes per day in SD, you’d use around 60 GB of data per month. If you streamed two hours of music each day at a medium bit rate, you’d spend approximately 4.3 GB monthly.
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With a degree in humanities and a knack for the history of tech, Jovan was always interested in how technology shapes both us as human beings and our social landscapes. When he isn't binging on news and trying to predict the latest tech fads, you may find him trapped within the covers of a generic 80s cyberpunk thriller.