YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime slashing video quality in Europe

An EU commissioner asked Netflix and Alphabet's YouTube to lower the default quality of streams to preserve bandwidth during coronavirus outbreak, and Amazon Prime is following suit.

3GB of data per hour vs. .7GB per hour—that's the trade-off between streaming video in high definition and streaming in standard definition. YouTube and Amazon Prime decided early Friday morning to switch to standard-definition streaming in Europe. The Alphabet company joined Netflix in this effort to preserve bandwidth as people around the world stay at home in response to the coronavirus.

Netflix was the first to take action on Thursday. YouTube was next, followed by Amazon Prime. A Prime Video spokesperson confirmed the decision Friday to CNET.

"Prime Video is working with local authorities and Internet Service Providers where needed to help mitigate any network congestion, including in Europe where we've already begun the effort to reduce streaming bitrates whilst maintaining a quality streaming experience for our customers," the company said in an emailed statement.

Tony Lenoir, a senior research analyst at Kagan, the media research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence, said that per user per hour Internet traffic is up about 30% compared to similar weekday activity in January.

"We found that we are still about 20% below what you'd see during nighttime hours of 6 to 11 pm," he said. "Usage is up but there's still some wiggle room."

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Lenoir and Kagan colleague Ian Olgeirson analyzed usage metrics by OpenVault, a supplier of industry analytics for broadband providers, for the week of March 9 and part of the week of March 16. 

They found that consumption jumped starting March 9, with the average weekly downstream usage up 28% from the previous week. The average upstream consumption increased 17% over the same time period.

On March 16, downstream consumption spiked up 81% from the same day the week before, while upstream consumption increased 59%. 

Lenoir said that it doesn't look like there is a risk that the Internet would buckle under the increased daytime load during coronavirus quarantines, but that the world is still in the early days of this shift to social distancing.

"If traffic keeps going up, I don't see why Netflix and YouTube wouldn't make the same decision for North America," he said.

European Union Commissioner Thierry Breton asked both companies to switch to standard-definition streaming earlier in the week. 

"We are in ongoing conversations with the regulators, governments and network operators all over Europe, and are making a commitment to temporarily default all traffic in the UK and the EU to standard definition," the Google-owned video streaming service said in a statement. This change will be in place for the next 30 days.

YouTube streams represent a huge chunk of traffic on the internet. The Pew Research Center found in 2019 that 73% of US adults are YouTube users, with Facebook coming in next at 69%. A study of 2,000 adults in the UK in January 2018 found similar YouTube usage in that country. YouTube was the second-most popular site, right behind Facebook.

In May 2019, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki stated that YouTube had 2 billion monthly active users. The total number of internet users worldwide is about 4.4 billion, meaning that YouTube users make up about 45% of the world's entire online population. 

In 2018, the YouTube app was the most-downloaded app in the iOS App Store.

In a post about YouTube traffic, Mansoor Iqbal on the Business of Apps reported these YouTube statistics:

  • One billion hours of YouTube content viewed per day
  • 500 hours of content uploaded to YouTube every minute
  • 250 million hours of YouTube viewed per day on TV screens
  • YouTube localised to 91 countries, and accessible in 80 languages

In a new analysis, Cisco found that video accounted for 75% of online traffic in 2017, and predicted that this could climb up to 82% by 2022.

Asia has the most Internet users by region according to 2019 data:

  • East Asia         1 billion
  • Southern Asia    803 million
  • Southeast Asia    415 million
  • North America     346 million
  • Eastern Europe    233 million
  • Western Europe    183 million

YouTube viewers can still switch to high-definition streaming manually if SD just isn't enough for their viewing pleasure.

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