Video-site traffic triples in a year

With video streaming putting strain on ISPs, research estimates the number of UK web users visiting online video sites has almost tripled

UK traffic to online video websites has roughly tripled in the last year, according to the internet monitor Hitwise.

In a blog posting this week, the organisation revealed that UK visits to the top 25 online video sites had increased by 178 percent between February 2007 and February 2008. However, the analyst that carried out this research, Robin Goad, suggested that this figure is an underestimate and the total is actually closer to 200 percent.

Hitwise has created a "category" for research purposes that includes the top 25 video websites as accessed by UK users. By far the most popular site in that category is YouTube; in February this year, almost 70 percent of all UK visits to one of those top 25 video sites were made to either the UK or US version of YouTube.

This custom category accounted for 2.22 percent — or one in every 45 — of all site visits made by UK web surfers in February, according to Goad. This represents an increase of 178 percent on the same month last year, in which those top 25 video sites accounted for 0.8 percent of all UK hits.

Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk on Thursday, Goad said the numbers "probably underestimate the growth". As the custom category only takes in 25 websites — four of which constitute the UK and US versions of YouTube and Google Video — it excludes a huge number of smaller websites that also offer video streaming.

According to Goad, this means that the 2.22 percent for February this year can be rounded up to roughly three percent, while last February's 0.8 percent can be rounded up to one percent. In other words, the number of video-site visits has tripled in the UK in one year. "My feeling is the growth rate of the sites [outside the top 25] has probably been greater [than that of those in the top 25]," said Goad. "YouTube [usage] hasn't grown at quite that rate."

There are also further reasons to suspect that the figures do not give the full picture of the increase in traffic to online video sites. Firstly, Goad admitted that Hitwise's analysis does not take in non-browser-based video streaming, such as that stemming from Channel 4's 4oD standalone player or Apple's iTunes. Secondly, the numbers represent page hits rather than the amount of data streamed.

"Typically, a visit to a video site would involve more bandwidth [than visits to other sites]," said Goad. "A lot of [internet service providers, or ISPs] are starting to complain about video streaming."

Figures released by Ellacoya Networks in June last year suggested that YouTube alone accounts for 10 percent of all traffic on the internet worldwide, while the UK ISP PlusNet claimed earlier this month that the BBC's streaming iPlayer service went from having a zero percent share of UK internet traffic to five percent in just two months.

PlusNet and others have said that the rapid growth in online video use will drastically change the way in which ISPs price their services, with so-called "unlimited broadband" offers likely to disappear within a year. The issue is also central to the debate over the delivery of "next-generation access" to UK businesses and homes.

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