Netflix Explains Streaming Video Quality Slowdown

Characterizing the current coronavirus spread as a “global crisis,” Netflix March 23 reiterated its responsibility to “help where we can.” Last week, the European Union asked companies like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube to ensure they are using telecommunications networks as efficiently as possible given the unprecedented network demand from quarantined residents.

In a blog post, Ken Florance, VP of content delivery at Netflix, said the SVOD pioneer quickly developed, tested and deployed a way to reduce its traffic on impacted networks by 25% — starting with Italy and Spain, which were experiencing the biggest impact.

“Within 48 hours, we’d hit that goal and we’re now deploying this across the rest of Europe and the U.K.,” Florance wrote. Netflix just reduced its streaming bit rate in Israel.

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To help clarify questions from subscribers concerned about the reduced streaming bit rates, Florance said the action taken by Netflix maintains the full range of video resolutions.

“Whether you paid for Ultra-High Definition (UHD), High-Definition (HD), or Standard-Definition (SD), that is what you should continue to get (depending on the device you are using),” he wrote.

Florance said that under normal circumstances sometimes has dozens of different streams for a single title within each resolution. In Europe, for the next 30 days, within each category Netflix just removed the highest bandwidth streams — resulting in a “very slight decrease” in quality within each resolution.

“But you will still get the video quality you paid for,” he said.

Florance said the ongoing crisis is impacting ISPs differently depending on where they’re located. He said some partners in regions such as Latin America want Netflix to reduce its bandwidth. But others with excess capacity want to continue with business as usual.

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“This is understandable, as different ISPs around the world have built their networks in different ways, and operate within different constraints,” Florance said.

He said Netflix would provide “relief “to ISPs dealing with large government-mandated “shelter in place” orders by providing the 25% traffic reduction started in Europe. For other networks, Netflix will stick with normal procedures until situations change.

“Our goal is simple: to maintain the quality of service for our members, while supporting ISPs who are facing unprecedented strain on their networks,” Florance wrote.

Netflix Reducing Streaming Bit Rates 25% Across Europe

As one of the largest distributors of digital data across high-speed networks, Netflix has agreed to reduce its streaming bit rates in Europe over the next 30 days as the region grapples with the coronavirus pandemic that has now exceeded China in the number  of infections and deaths.

The move comes after CEO Reed Hastings met with European Commissioner Thierry Breton about Netflix reducing its strain on European networks.

“Following the discussions between Commissioner Thierry Breton and Reed Hastings — and given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus — Netflix has decided to begin reducing bit rates across all our streams in Europe for 30 days,” Netflix said in an email. “We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25% while also ensuring a good quality service for our members.”

With mandatory at-home quarantine in some countries, people have turned to the Internet for work and school. At the same time, Netflix has more than 106 million subscribers outside the United States. Its standard definition videos reportedly consume about 1GB of data per hour, while HD videos eat up 3GB of data per hour. Video consumption accounts for about 70% of bandwidth used across European networks.

Akamai reports its networks are experiencing 50% more Web traffic than previously used during this time period. CEO Tom Leighton told Business Insider the company’s peak traffic load in Q1 is twice what it was during the same period last year.

“I think we’ll see more acceleration due to the fact that you have so many more people working from home and you have, kids out of school and spending more time at home,” Leighton said.