Self-quarantine and social-distance measures worldwide mean more people are at home on the couches eager to stream content — which means increased strain on Netflix and internet speed overall. In response to the European Union asking Netflix to temper download speeds in an effort to reduce bandwidth strain for the EU, the streamer has agreed to reduce bit rates across all streams throughout Europe for the next 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,” Netflix said in a statement to IndieWire. The decision came after discussions with EU Commissioner Thierry Breton and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in anticipation of potential stress on European online infrastructure during a time of international crisis where everyone is online. (See Breton’s Wednesday Twitter announcement calling for reduced bit rates below.)
What this means for European at-home audiences is a restriction on picture quality, meaning viewers will need to forego that ultra-crisp 4K experience for one closer to standard definition.
Netflix said that the rollout of bit rate caps will begin immediately, and while this has yet to apply to other places around the world, the streamer said it is prepared to address those concerns whenever necessary. That’s critical, as Netflix, as revealed in 2018, accounts for 15% of all downstream internet traffic worldwide.
Netflix reportedly already employs an “adaptive streaming” process wherein content is distributed across servers worldwide rather than from one place, meaning that the company already has taken measures to take up less bandwidth. Which means that, like it or not, you may start seeing reduced streaming quality regardless of where you live. A New York Times report recently indicated that the United States should expect to experience significant bandwidth strain as well, despite an overall infrastructure accustomed to increased stress. Still, amid the ongoing pandemic, that stress is headed toward the unprecedented.
Teleworking & streaming help a lot but infrastructures might be in strain.
To secure Internet access for all, let’s #SwitchToStandard definition when HD is not necessary.
— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) March 18, 2020