Youtube Temporary joins Netflix in video quality reduction against network congestion

Netflix and YouTube have agreed to cut video streaming quality to alleviate the burden on broadband networks caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Google-owned platform said today the decision had been made after an appeal from the European Union industry chief Thierry Breton, who suggested websites could help ensure the “smooth functioning of the internet” by downgrading video quality from high-definition to standard definition.

YouTube is following Netflix’s lead in cutting the quality of its video streaming from high definition to standard in the European Union, it confirmed to CNET, as the bloc’s leaders try to reduce strain on the internet during the coronavirus outbreak. Since more people are working from home and children are staying out of school, internet usage has spiked.

Thierry Breton from the commission spoke to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings as well as Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki to put these measures in place.

The virus outbreak has shuttered schools, businesses and restaurants in much of the region, sending millions of people home — where they’re using services like Netflix and YouTube. The amount of time people spent streaming spiked by more than 20% worldwide last weekend, including more than 40% in Austria and Spain. While traffic has increased, EU telecom regulators say there haven’t been any signs of congestion in Europe and operators appear able to cope with the situation.

“Following the discussions between Commissioner Thierry Breton and [Netflix chief executive] Reed Hastings, and given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus, Netflix has decided to begin reducing bitrates across all our streams in Europe for 30 days,” the company said.

Commissioner Breton praised the “very prompt action” Netflix took just hours after the phone call, saying it would “preserve the smooth functioning of the internet during the Covid-19 crisis”.

Internet usage

Netflix has not yet said whether the bitrate reduction will be applied to other areas such as North America.

Internet usage has been heightened in the last few weeks as more people work from home and avoid going out.

Telecoms giant Vodafone reported a 50 per cent rise in internet use in Europe earlier this week.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday that the platform was seeing “big surges” as users tried to stay connected with friends.

The social media boss said the company typically saw its largest surge in use on New Year’s Eve, but that recent demand had outpaced that.

For the next 30 days, you are likely to see a small – possibly unnoticeable – reduction in streaming quality as Netflix is scaling back on data usage by a quarter. The same applies to YouTube, with Reuters reporting that “all traffic” will be switched to standard definition “by default.”

“Given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus, Netflix has decided to begin reducing bitrates across all our streams in Europe for 30 days,” the streaming giant said in a statement (via BBC).

So, what are bitrates and how does that affect you?

In layman’s terms, a bitrate is the amount of ‘bits’ of data that can be processed in a certain amount of time. You’ve probably seen your internet speeds vary from 20 megabits per second (mb/s) to 100 mb/s and beyond, depending on what broadband package you’re on.

Notice how sometimes video streaming get pixelated when your internet speed drops? Same deal here with Netflix. Think of it as a slight cap for everyone in case of overload, with picture quality dropping from time to time.

That likely won’t matter to most. If you have the standard HD streaming package, the difference will be negligible. It’s those that have Ultra HD/4K packages that will be potentially worse off. 4K, inevitably, requires more data which may not be available during the downtime – so a short-term downgrade may be worth considering over the next month or so if you’re not happy with the quality.

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