The internet has developed its own prime time, and it’s coming for TV

TV can be so trashy.
TV can be so trashy.
Image: Reuters
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There’s a prime time for watching video on the internet, and it could supplant the traditional peak viewing period as defined by broadcast television. According to the latest study of global internet traffic by Cisco, the internet is busiest between 9pm and 11pm around the world, with the vast majority of that activity comprised of people watching video.

The internet’s “busy hour” is starting to infringe on broadcast TV’s prime-time slot. According to Arielle Sumits, a senior analyst at Cisco’s Visual Networking Index team, the second-busiest period for internet traffic was once between 11pm and 1am. It’s now moved to the 7pm to 9pm slot, which has historically been peak TV-viewing time.

Cisco doesn’t have data to explain why the internet’s prime time generally skews later than traditional TV’s prime time, Sumits says. But on-demand video from Netflix and Amazon is undoubtedly substituting for broadcast TV viewing. “We don’t know if broadcast viewing takes place a little earlier, people want to tune in to newsier content, then go to on-demand for entertainment,” she says. “But on-demand is contributing to the fact that busy-hour is getting earlier.”

Video consumption is creating bigger peaks in daily internet traffic, and it’ll make prime time a lot busier. Internet peak-hour traffic is forecast to grow by 4.6 times in the next five years, compared with a twofold increase in average hourly internet traffic across the entire day. More than 60% of all internet traffic today is made up of video, according to the study. By 2020, that share will rise to nearly 80%.