By Michelle Ricker June 16, 2022
Summary: If you keep hitting your internet data cap, streaming might just be the reason. Did you know that you can adjust your settings on Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube to be a better digital conservationist? Yep. We’ve got the scoop on how much data Netflix uses plus how to trim it back — without missing out on the latest episodes.
Going to the movies is undeniably fun. From the excitement of seeing the latest blockbuster with other fans to the sweet treats and buttered popcorn to the thrum of surround sound, it’s a few hours you can enjoy being fully immersed in another world.
But there’s something to be said for the joy of curling up on your couch with your favorite snacks and streaming a new-to-you movie. But streaming requires data, and if you’re on a limited-data plan (think: many cable internet plans, wireless home internet, or streaming from your phone), your data use is something you need to keep an eye on every month. But how much data does streaming really use?
Netflix’s data usage depends on a few variables, the most important of which is the graphic quality you’re streaming in. So, unfortunately, it’s not as simple as asking how many GB a movie is. The real question is how many GB does it take to stream that movie in HD? (Or any other graphic setting.)
Here’s a quick breakdown of the numbers when it comes to streaming data usage:
Let’s think about this in movie terms. If the average movie is about two hours long and HD is the most popular resolution setting, most people will probably use 6 GB to watch it. If you’re watching a half-hour TV show, you’d probably only use 1.5 GB to stream an episode in HD.
Obviously, streaming in standard definition can save a lot of data — especially when compared to UHD! If you’re worried that lower graphics will distract you from the entertainment, be strategic. Use SD to stream things that are naturally less crisp (think: classic films, shows from the early 2000s and before, or even kid’s movies). You’ll notice the difference less in these cases compared to the latest superhero movie.
Another trick is to change your resolution depending on the device you’re watching on. Watching something in HD or SD on your phone will be less noticeable than streaming SD to an 80-inch, 4K TV. Making these changes doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, though. Instead, make small adjustments to stretch your data even further. So, yes: Netflix use can eat up a lot of data — but it’s really up to the viewer.
Bandwidth is the maximum amount of data that can be transferred at one time. It’s basically a combination of your upload speed and download speed. The higher the speeds, the more data that can be transferred at once. Netflix doesn’t require a ton of bandwidth to function, but it does tend to override other activities. If you’re on a video call while someone else in the house is streaming, you may run into bottlenecks. That’s why we recommend higher speeds for higher data-consuming households: more speed means more bandwidth.
Want to find out more? We’ve got the scoop on bandwidth vs. latency and everything you need to know.
You might be wondering if downloading episodes on Netflix uses data. The short answer: yes. Depending on your viewing habits, streaming vs. downloading Netflix has the same data usage. Watching a two-hour movie in 4K requires 14 GB of data, regardless of if you’re streaming in real time or downloading to watch later.
That also means that the total data to download that two-hour HD movie from before is the same as the total data to stream a Netflix movie: 6 GB. And the total data to download episodes is the same, too. A half-hour show in HD would require 1.5 GB.
That said, there is one way you can save data by downloading your watch list from Netflix. If you’re someone who is perfectly happy to watch and rewatch (and rewatch) your favorite movie or show, you’re better off downloading it ahead of time. Why?
Let’s look at that same two-hour move in 4K. Sure, downloading takes 14 GB of data, just like streaming does. But that’s to stream it just one time. If you decide you want to watch it again tomorrow night, you’ll need another 14 GB. If you already have it downloaded? Well, you could watch the downloaded version 100 times and only ever have used 14 GB.
Of course, Netflix isn’t the only streaming service out there. We’ve got the lowdown on how much data other popular platforms require per hour.
If you’re using the default settings (96kbps playback), Spotify uses roughly 40 MB per hour. In other words, it would take about 24 hours to use 1 GB of data in the standard setting. But if you increase your audio quality, you’ll also need more data. For high quality (160kbps) you’ll need 72 MB per hour, and you’ll reach 1 GB in about 14 hours. For very high quality (320kbps), you’ll use 144 MB per hour and will be able to stream music for about 7 hours before using 1 GB.
You can change playback quality by going to: Settings > Audio Quality and making your selection for WiFi and cellular data. Generally speaking, audio-only streaming uses less data than video streaming because there’s simply less information being downloaded from the servers.
Again, depending on the video quality you choose, the amount of data YouTube requires varies.
Just like we suggested with Netflix, use lower resolution if you’re trying to save data — especially if you’re just watching on a phone or have it on in the background.
One thing you might not think about requiring data is social media. Take Facebook, for example. The platform has a mix of text-based posts, photos, and even videos. So how much data does scrolling Facebook require?
“Regular” usage of the app — like browsing through the news feed and looking at photos — uses about 1.5 MB of data every minute. In other words, 90 MB of data every hour. However, if you’re viewing video content, whether it’s your best friend’s latest live or a series of reels from your favorite comedian, you’ll be using roughly 2.6 MB per minute, depending on the graphic quality. That means video on Facebook adds up to 156 MB of data per hour.
Looking to use less data? Try going into your settings and turning off autoplay videos or adjusting your playback quality.
Although owned by Facebook, Instagram is much more dedicated to video and photo sharing. On average, Instagram uses about 720 MB of data every hour. Again, if you’re solely watching videos — whether it’s a video posted to the grid or a story — you’ll burn through more data than only scrolling still photos.
Along the same lines, TikTok uses nearly 850 MB every hour. It makes sense that this would be one of the highest data-using social media apps since it’s all video based.
If streaming video uses a significant amount of data, then surely gaming uses even more, right? Actually, no. While the exact amount of data used depends on the game itself, Fortnite and Minecraft both use roughly 100 MB per hour. Most games range anywhere from 50 MB to 150 MB.
That said, if you’re into competitive gaming, those hours can add up fast, and you’ll want an internet plan that can keep up. Check out our guide to the best internet provider for gamers.
But what if you don’t have a WiFi connection? Can you use an internet hotspot instead? Well, yes. Using a mobile hotspot creates an internet network for your other devices to use. But hotspots are also notorious for draining phone batteries and sucking up data.
Wondering how long 15 GB of hotspot data lasts for Netflix? Watching in SD, you can enjoy about 15 hours of streaming, or between 6 and 7 movies on 15 GB. If you’re watching in HD, though, you’ve only got about 5 hours before your hotspot data runs out. We don’t recommend using a hotspot to stream in 4K — you’ll only get 2 or so hours if you have 15 GB.
We recommend downloading your entertainment rather than using a hotspot to get it. While it does require the same amount of data to be used, you won’t drain your battery as quickly and you can save your hotspot for another time.
Now that you have an idea of Netflix’s data usage, you can adjust it to match your own needs. The higher your streaming quality, the crisper the picture — but the more data and bandwidth you need. Opting for lower streaming qualities (even HD Instead of 4K), especially for older movies and shows, will help you save your data for a new blockbuster or award-winner on family movie night. Or, if you know someone in your house tends to rewatch the same movie every week (or more), consider downloading it once instead of streaming it every time.
It’s also a good time to check if you have a data cap. A data cap is a restriction on how much information you can send and receive online. The more data-intensive activities you do — like streaming, gaming, video chatting, and even file sharing — the faster you’ll burn through your data limits.
Looking to change the settings on your other streaming services? We’ve rounded up some of the most popular options so you can skip the search and get back to relaxing.
Here’s how to save data on your favorite streaming services.
|Hulu||Change quality control settings to “Data Saver”|
|Amazon Prime Video||Change stream quality to “Good”|
|Roku||Change display type to “720p”|
|Paramount+||Change video quality option to “Low”|
|Disney+||Change video playback settings to “Save Data” or “SD”|
|YouTube||Change video quality to “Data Saver”|
|Peacock||Change video quality to “Low”|
We know that fiber internet is the future, especially because it has the fastest speeds and the best reliability for just about everything — including streaming movies. And at EarthLink, it never has data caps. Get started today by learning what’s available in your area or calling our Internet Experts at 866-383-3080.
Michelle Ricker is a Copywriter for EarthLink. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati with an M.A. in Communication and has more than 5 years of writing experience. She thrives on storytelling and well-placed punctuation. She currently lives and works in Atlanta.
See all posts from Michelle Ricker.