The concept of prime time may soon apply more to the internet than broadcast television as people begin to favour consuming their video content online during the evening, according to Cisco global technology policy vice-president Dr Robert Pepper.
The latest release of Cisco's Visual Network Index (VNI), which tries to predict the growth and use of internet protocol (IP) networks over a five year period, showed global internet traffic will increase 23 percent year-on-year from now to 2017. That equates to 121 exabytes worth of traffic travelling through IP networks per month in 2017.
In Australia, the year-on-year growth will be 17 percent at 755 petabytes worth of traffic per month.
The surge in traffic has been attributed to several factors, one of them being the increased appetite for video content online, and it's becoming increasingly evident that people have a preferred time to eat up all that content, according to Dr Pepper.
"How people watch it, view it, and interact with it is actually beginning to mirror the type of behaviour we've seen in television," he said. "This peak hour traffic, which is 3.5 times the average, is coming in the prime time on the internet, which is 9pm to 1am.
"That has implications not only for the types of networks you need, but the network architecture, how networks are managed, and also for traditional video media."
Broadcasters around the world have been working to respond to this change in consumer behaviour, introducing catch-up TV and other on-demand services. Australian broadcasters are also trying to do their bit, albeit much slower than their US counterparts. Australia has the added challenge of satiating the populations hunger for US TV shows that are often aired much later in the country. As such, TV shows such as Game of Thrones are regularly downloaded illegally by Australians.
But this move to prime time internet can have regulatory ramifications as well.
"We're seeing in some countries, but not most, putting in effort to have more regulation on the internet," Dr Pepper said. "They are not concerned about regulation on the infrastructure, but more about regulating the content."
Governments that do not try to regulate the internet as much, see more investment into their countries' internet infrastructure. This is a problem faced by countries in the European Union, which are highly regulated, Dr Pepper said.
But internet groups are now already seeking to regulate the internet on their own terms as the IP content consumption skyrockets.
The World Wide Web Consortium, an international group that counts some of the biggest names in the IT industry as its members, released a draft specification which would pave the way for implementing digital rights management (DRM) systems into video, audio, or interactive content marked with HTML5 element tags. This would give rights holders the ability to protect their content on the open web.
This proposal has been met with staunch resistance by internet advocacy groups.
Australian broadband speeds
In Cisco's 2012 VNI, Australia was tipped to have average download speeds of 36Mbps by 2016. In the most recent VNI, speed is expected to hit 75Mbps in 2017, a major jump from the 2016 predicted speed.
According to Dr Pepper, the new report factors in the current rollout plans for the National Broadband Network (NBN).
He did, however, make it clear that part of the reason the VNI is done every year is because circumstances across the globe changes constantly, and the Cisco research team tries to factor those changes into the model on an annual basis.
"If the government makes a major change in their government policy, that could affect the forecast going forward," Dr Pepper said.
Given that the Coalition is heavily tipped to win in the upcoming federal election in September and overhaul Labor's NBN plans, the 2014 Cisco VNI may look very different.