Coronavirus: Netflix, YouTube Lower Streaming Quality To Ease Network Strain

Two of the biggest streaming platforms, Netflix and Alphabet’s YouTube, have confirmed that they will lower the streaming quality of their video content for European users.

Earlier this week, with the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe, concern was expressed at the growing strain on networks.

Vodafone for example admitted that there has been a surge in data traffic on its networks around the world, with some markets showing a 50 percent rise in traffic.

Streaming quality

This led to calls from European Commissioner Thierry Breton for example, for streaming platforms to consider lowering the quality of their online content.

The idea to halt streaming in high definition is to ease overloading online networks, as more and more people self-isolate during the Coronavirus pandemic.

And bandwidth is becoming a precious commodity as many countries are now enforcing nationwide lockdowns.

In response, both Netflix and YouTube said they would reduce streaming quality in Europe for at least the next month, to prevent the internet collapsing under the strain of unprecedented usage, CNN reported.

Both companies said the measures will affect all video streams for 30 days.

“We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25 percent, while also ensuring a good quality service for our members,” a Netflix spokesperson told CNN in a statement.

The Netflix spokesperson also said that the reduction may mean some users “see a reduction in perceptible video quality,” while others won’t see any change.

“We will continue working with member state governments and network operators to minimize stress on the system, while also delivering a good user experience,” a Google spokesperson reportedly said.

CNN quoted a 2019 report by US networking equipment firm Sandvine, which found that video accounts for over 60 percent of data delivered from internet providers to consumers.

Netflix alone is said to account for just under 12 percent of total traffic, whereas Google traffic (driven by YouTube), accounts for another 12 percent.

Under pressure

Meanwhile in the UK, Howard Watson, chief technology and information officer for BT Group, has publicly stated that the carrier “has more than enough capacity” in its UK network.

“Even if the same heavy data traffic that we see each evening were to run throughout the daytime, there is still enough capacity for work applications to run simultaneously,” he reportedly said.

But the Internet is clearly under pressure.

CNN reported that Facebook on Wednesday acknowledged that the effects of the pandemic are also stretching it to the limit.

In a call with reporters, CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly said Facebook’s services are facing “big surges” in usage as the coronavirus forces millions around the world to stay home.

He described the increase in demand as “well beyond” the main annual spike usually seen on New Year’s Eve. Voice and video calls on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, in particular, are more than double usual levels.

The Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has so far killed 10,405 people around the world as of Friday 20 March 2020, with Italy now overtaking China as reporting the most deaths, the World Health Organisation has reported.

There are 252,055 cases of the virus worldwide.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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