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Netflix cuts streaming quality amid crisis

Netflix’s ultra-HD shows like Our Planet may look noticeably different in Europe

Netflix is set to limit its streaming quality in European territories over the next 30 days in a bid to cope with network overload brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

The global SVoD giant is aiming to reduce its traffic across Europe by a quarter by slowing the speed at which it delivers content to subscribers.

Websites and broadband providers are feeling the strain as huge numbers of people around the world work from home in a bid to beat the coronavirus pandemic.

Netflix’s move will lead to a reduction in picture quality for some, but not all, of its 51 million subscribers across the territory, and comes after a meeting between Thierry Breton, industry commissioner of the European Union’s executive arm, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.

The streamer said people with its most expensive ultra-HD package would be the most likely to notice a difference in picture quality, but added that many others would not.

“We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25% while also ensuring a good-quality service for our members,” the company said.

The restrictions currently only apply to European users, and the streaming giant has not indicated whether it is likely to adopt similar measures in other large territories such as the US.

Google-owned video platform YouTube has adopted similar measures. A spokesman for the company said: “We will continue working with member-state governments and network operators to minimise stress on the system, while also delivering a good user experience.”

Talking to C21, Lars Larsson, CEO of Varnish Software, detailed the impact of network overload and outlined how a move to SD would relieve the strain.

“Streaming HD video requires a lot of bandwidth, and large numbers of users streaming at once can cause significant peaks in internet traffic,” said Larsson, whose firm provides services for content-heavy websites.

“Streaming providers build out their content-delivery networks to handle lots of simultaneous users, but the entire internet is now experiencing an unprecedented surge in activity.

“Streaming services can alleviate some of the pressure on networks by switching to SD streaming. This will mean there is less traffic going across networks, and also means each streaming server has to handle less data and can therefore serve even more users at once,” he explained.

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