EU Asks Netflix and More Platforms to Stream in Standard Definition to Avoid Network Crashes (UPDATE)

The European Union is asking streamers to pump out content in standard definition during the coronavirus lockdown.


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UPDATED 3/23, 9:50 a.m. ET: More platforms have joined in on the throttling efforts urged by government officials in Europe. 

As a Hollywood Reporter update on the novel coronavirus-inspired move points out, multiple companies have responded as part of a united push to avoid outright service disruption due to the larger-than-normal usage numbers amid stay-at-home orders.

Amazon, Instagram, Facebook, and Apple have now joined. Amazon, for example, has reduced bit rate speeds for Prime streamers. Users in the affected regions will currently not be able to access high-definition formats of the catalog.

"Prime Video is working with local authorities and internet service providers where needed to help mitigate any network congestion, including in Europe where we've already begun the effort to reduce streaming bit rates while maintaining a quality streaming experience for our customers," an Amazon rep told Varietyover the weekend.

UPDATED 3/19, 3:30 p.m. ET: Netflix will comply with the European Union’s request to decrease streaming quality in Europe during the coronavirus crisis. Deadline reports the temporary no-high-definition measures will be enacted for at least the next 30 days in the EU “to relax the strain on communications networks as increasing numbers rely on internet connections in coronavirus lockdown.”

A Netflix spokesperson said via statement, “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.” There were no remarks on whether the U.S. or other territories should expect to see similar measures. There's also no word yet if other streaming services will comply.

CNN writes that European Commissioner Thierry Breton, “responsible for the EU internal market covering more than 450 million people,” talked with Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings on Wednesday and Thursday about the potential dangers.

"I welcome the very prompt action that Netflix has taken to preserve the smooth functioning of the Internet during the COVID-19 crisis while maintaining a good experience for users," Breton stated. He said streaming services as well as users "all have a joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the internet during the battle against the virus propagation."

A Netflix spokesperson informed CNN some users will "see a reduction in perceptible video quality" and some won't see any discernible change.

See original story below.

Because so many people are quarantined and there's nothing entertaining on traditional TV—sports, for instance—more and more people are streaming video content. Makes sense.

This sheer volume of streams has led to the European Union asking Netflix and other platforms, including YouTube, to stop uploading in HD to prevent a crash. After all, if such a crash were to happen, it would really mess up online gaming (for example) and would also screw over the increasing number of people working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cue European Commissioner Thierry Breton:

Providers have said they can manage changes in traffic, but Belgium's capital, Brussels, has still asked that streamers limit themselves to standard definition to cap data consumption. 

Domestic broadband has often been able to run smoothly when traffic jumps up in evenings, but a policy that has people locked in their homes has led to high traffic stretching from midday to 9 p.m., according to the chief technology officer of the U.K.'s Vodafone, Scott Petty. 

Reports also state that Telecom Italia had a massive 75 percent jump in usage last weekend, which was mainly attributed to gamers bingeing on Fortnite and Call of Duty.

Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook is having "big surges" that are "well beyond" the traditional spike it gets at New Year's. As reported by CNN, calls on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are seeing more than double what they usually handle.

Netflix said higher traffic could cause issues, but it doesn't seem overly concerned at the moment because it's got procedures for these fluctuations. “We’ve been focused on network efficiency for many years, including providing our open connect service for free to telecommunications companies," said a spokesman for the company, according to Tech Radar. Netflix's CEO, Reed Hastings, and Breton are set to talk again on Thursday.

Though internet traffic's up, outages or unpleasent affects are yet to be reported.  

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