A top European Union official called on Netflix and other streaming-video services to reduce video quality to standard-definition format — forgoing HD for now — so that internet networks don’t get overloaded during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a tweet Wednesday, EU Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said he spoke with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings about the issue, lobbying to have the company switch to SD “when HD is not necessary.” Breton’s concern: With millions of people working from home amid the crisis, broadband networks may get congested.
“Important phone conversation with @ReedHastings, CEO of @Netflix,” Breton wrote. “To beat #COVID19, we #StayAtHome. 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.”
A Netflix rep confirmed to CNN that Hastings spoke with the EU commissioner but the company did not indicate whether it would switch to standard-definition streaming video by default. The Netflix CEO was scheduled to speak again to Breton on Thursday.
Streaming TV shows or movies on Netflix uses about 1 gigabyte of data per hour for each stream of standard definition video, and up to 3 GB per hour for each stream of HD video, according to the company.
“Commissioner Breton is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that the internet continues to run smoothly during this critical time,” a Netflix representative said in the statement to CNN. “We’ve been focused on network efficiency for many years, including providing our Open Connect service for free to telecommunications companies.”
Like other streaming services, Netflix uses an adaptive bit rate (ABR) method for streaming video that by default automatically adjusts to deliver the highest possible quality based on a customer’s current internet connection speed and network conditions. Users also can manually set video quality to lower levels to conserve bandwidth.
Over the last several years, Netflix has consistently been the biggest consumer of broadband capacity as a percentage of overall usage. In the first half of 2019, Netflix accounted for 12.6% of the total downstream volume of traffic across the entire internet, per a report by network equipment vendor Sandvine.
But in recent days, YouTube has eclipsed Netflix in the rankings, sometimes by as much as twice the volume of internet traffic, according to preliminary findings from Sandvine issued Wednesday. The company tracks bandwidth-consumption trends using data from internet service provider customers worldwide (excluding China and India).