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Netflix and YouTube to reduce streaming quality across Europe

With millions of Europeans now in self-isolation - putting increased strain on broadband networks as they work from home - the streaming giants have been forced to act.

Content streaming websites Netflix and YouTube are set to reduce the streaming quality of videos on their platforms in order to help prevent Europe’s broadband networks from becoming overloaded.

The decision from the streaming websites has come at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing more and more people to work from home, not only in Ireland but across Europe.

Why now?

The decision was made by the streaming platforms in response to an address made by Thierry Breton, Internal Market and Services Commissioner in the European Union.

Mr Breton urged players like Netflix and YouTube to reduce viewing capabilities from high definition (HD) to standard definition (SD), stating that telecommunication companies and streaming platforms alike had “joint responsibility” in ensuring the smooth running of the internet.

The call from Europe was first and foremost about making sure that the internet is safeguarded from crashing during a global health emergency.

The EU’s net neutrality laws currently prevent telecom operators from throttling specific websites such as Netflix in order to reduce bandwidth congestion.

The measures being implemented come at the perfect time as new streaming platform Disney+ is set to launch in Ireland next week which will surely see more traffic congest Irish networks.

Consumers can follow the conversation online by using the hashtag #SwitchToStandard on Twitter.

Will this impact viewing experience?

Several factors influence how much data is used when streaming a movie online. One of them is video resolution, including whether a video is high-definition (HD) or ultra-high definition 4K.

Another is bitrate, which influences how clear and smooth videos look when streamed online.

Netflix has taken the decision to reduce its bitrate for a period of 30 days.

Content will still be available to stream for those customers paying for high definition, ultra high definition and even flicks in 4K, however, you might notice a reduction in quality whereby the image is not as smooth or, well, defined for want of a better word.

The reduction in streaming bitrates will mean less data is being transmitted, which will in turn help to preserve bandwidth for more essential services online.

Netflix estimates that its decision will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25% while also ensuring a good quality service for its members. 

Meanwhile Google will be switching default quality settings on YouTube in Europe to standard definition rather than HD quality. This is only a move by default, though, as users will still be able to turn the quality up after the video has started playing if they choose to do so. However this may change. 

The decision by Google and Netflix is sure to please broadband providers who, although they have promised customers that their networks can handle the increased usage, have seen pressure put on their services amidst the spread of the virus as more and more people work from home.

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