Coronavirus: Netflix, YouTube reduce streaming quality

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Netflix Inc. and Google’s YouTube agreed to reduce the quality of their video streaming in Europe to relieve networks strained by the coronavirus pandemic.

The moves follow separate discussions between European Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton and Netflix Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings, and with Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai and YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki.

YouTube said Friday it would temporarily switch all traffic in Europe to standard definition by default for 30 days.

“We will continue working with member state governments and network operators to minimize stress on the system, while also delivering a good user experience, YouTube said in a statement, adding it has so far only seen a few usage peaks.

Netflix will begin reducing bit rates across all its streams in Europe for a month, the Silicon Valley-based company said in a statement Thursday.

“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.

The virus outbreak has shuttered schools, businesses and restaurants in much of the region, sending millions of people home -- where they’re using services like Netflix and YouTube. The amount of time people spent streaming spiked by more than 20 percent worldwide last weekend, including more than 40 percent in Austria and Spain.

While traffic has increased, EU telecom regulators say there haven’t been any signs of congestion in Europe and operators appear able to cope with the situation.

Still, the surge has left officials looking for ways to lessen the load.

Breton said he welcomed the action taken by Netflix and YouTube “to preserve the smooth functioning of the internet during the Covid-19 crisis.

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