Coronavirus: Why Netflix and YouTube might look crap over the next few weeks

YouTube will sacrifice streaming quality in the EU to help avert internet gridlock as tens of millions of Europeans, confined by the coronavirus outbreak, switch to working from home.

Alphabet's YouTube is the second online video company after Netflix to respond to a call by the European Union industry chief Thierry Breton to cut picture quality to prevent overload.

While mobile networks are coping so far they could come under increased pressure as lockdowns to slow the pandemic become stricter and broader.

Streaming video can account for 60 percent or more of traffic on fixed and mobile networks and the planned March 24 launch of Disney+ in Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland could create a new pain point.

Carriers have been told by the EU not to prioritise traffic as this would violate its net neutrality rules.

"We are making a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default," YouTube said in a statement after Breton spoke to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki.

A spokesman said the decision includes Britain, which is leaving the EU, and will initially be for 30 days.

"I warmly welcome the initiative that Google has taken to preserve the smooth functioning of the internet during the COVID19 crisis," Breton said in a statement.

Disney, which has 28.6 million users, had no immediate comment. It is already sending out teasers for a launch that will feature the opening two episodes of The Mandalorian and the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

A scene from The Mandalorian.
A scene from The Mandalorian. Photo credit: Lucasfilm/Disney

Experts warn that reducing streaming rates may only give temporary relief and the dilemma of whether to discriminate between essential and non-essential traffic will resurface.

"In an ideal world, network operators would obviously upgrade their infrastructure and invest," said Eric Broockman, chief technology officer of Extreme Networks, a US network management company.

"In the short term, what network operators could do to reduce the pressure on their networks and ensure connectivity for all is to deprioritise non-essential traffic."

Netflix said it would reduce bit rates, which determine the quality and size of its audio and video files, across all its streams in Europe for 30 days, in effect cutting its traffic on European networks by around 25 percent.

Vodafone in New Zealand is also asking people not to swamp its call centre with calls, and instead use digital forms of communication.

"If you can use a digital way of contacting us instead of calling in the first instance then please do. We have a great website and newly relaunched My Vodafone app as a first port of call," said customer operations director Antony Welton.

"We have major call centres in different offices in New Zealand and India, and a small specialist customer care team in the Philippines - and while we're able to redirect work and calls for some customers between them, we are also planning for future impacts including what we can expect will be further increased restrictions on movement in cities worldwide."

Call times are expected to be especially long over the weekend, with curfews and staffing restrictions in place in different parts of the world. 

"We apologise for any inconvenience to our customers and encourage people to visit our online store for home delivery across Aotearoa."

Reuters / Newshub.


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