Explaining Netflix's coronavirus changes

Abby Robinson
Photo credit: Netflix

From Digital Spy

There has never been a better time to work your way through that boxset you've been meaning to watch for the past six months, or challenging yourself to a different movie marathon every night.

Courtesy of the global coronavirus outbreak, social distancing is on the cards for the foreseeable, which means millions of us are turning to streaming platforms to keep us entertained.

But with more people than ever signing into Netflix at the same time, the pressure on internet service providers has ramped up tenfold, so much so that the streaming giant has had to make a major call.

Photo credit: Netflix

Ken Florance, vice president of content delivery at Netflix, revealed via a press release that EU commissioner Thierry Breton had requested that Netflix, Amazon, Apple and YouTube, among others, operate "as efficiently as possible" in light of the current situation.

Netflix's response: to reduce its traffic on telecommunications networks by 25%.

This, understandably, has piqued the interest of its subscribers, who are concerned about what that change means for them in terms of video quality.

Would the likes of David Attenborough's Our Planet suddenly look dull and fuzzy, its colours and finer details muted?

Photo credit: Netflix

Netflix has assured its customers that if you pay for Ultra-High Definition (UHD), that is what you'll continue to get (if it's possible on the device you're using, that is).

The same goes for High Definition (HD) and Standard Definition (SD), for now at least.

But what has changed is the bandwidth.

"Bandwidth describes the data transfer rate", according to Search Networking, which means "the capacity of a wired or wireless network communications link to transmit the maximum amount of data from one point to another over a computer network or internet connection in a given amount of time" – usually one second.

Disney, too, has also taken the same action to ease the situation.

"In anticipation of high consumer demand for Disney+, we are proactively instituting measures to lower our overall bandwidth utilisation by at least 25% in all of the markets launching Disney+ on March 24," said Kevin Mayer, Disney Company's chairman of direct-to-consumer and international, in a statement.

"In the coming days, we will be monitoring internet congestion and working closely with internet service providers to further reduce bitrates as necessary to ensure they are not overwhelmed by consumer demand."

Photo credit: Disney

Netflix has explained that in normal circumstances, there are multiple different streams for a single title within each resolution. But for the next 30 days in Europe, the highest bandwidth streams have been removed.

The result: "a very slight decrease in quality within each resolution".

The effect can be seen in the following photo, which was picked up by Forbes.

Photo credit: @jonhoneyball - Twitter

Jon Honeyball, owner of a high-tech product testing laboratory, shared the image taken from a 4K stream on a Samsung smart television, which he described (via Forbes) as "perfectly watchable, just not quite as crisp as usual".

He added: "Something like BBC Planet stuff doesn't have that same 'fall through the screen' sharpness."

But that doesn't seem to be the case with other streaming platforms.

Photo credit: Netflix

The Next Web picked up the following quote from 9to5Mac assessing the effect on Apple content: "In addition to lower resolution, the streams appear heavily compressed with visibly blocky artifacts.

"The degradation in video quality is very noticeable, and even more so on the >40-inch televisions most people have in their living rooms these days.

"The lower quality is a far cry from the richly detailed 4K HDR content Apple TV+ normally serves."

Photo credit: 9to5Mac

Related: Disney+ content list – Here's everything that is available on the platform at UK launch

9to5Mac also highlighted some reviews from AppleTV users in Europe, one of which said that the differences are "primarily fast-moving content that is slower to refresh, heavily compressed and more pixelated".

But it doesn't look like companies will be offering their subscribers any compensation for the reduced quality – at least not at the moment.

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