In response to EU's request to help reduce strain on internet bandwidth, Netflix will reduce its streaming quality in Europe by lowering the bitrate for 30 days.
Reduced streaming quality
Earlier this week, European Commissioner Thierry Breton urged Netflix and other major streaming services to "switch to standard definition when HD is not necessary" and said that he had already discussed the initiative with Netflix CEO Reed Hasting.
- "To beat #COVID19, we stay at home. Teleworking and streaming help a lot but infrastructures might be in strain. To secure Internet access for all, let’s switch to standard definition when HD is not necessary," Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for internal market, wrote on twitter on March 18.
Netflix has now responded to EU's request - partially. It says that it will begin reducing bitrates across all streams in Europe for 30 days. Netflix estimates that it will reduce traffic in Europe by approximately 25%.
- "Following the discussions between Commissioner Thierry Breton and Reed Hastings – and given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus – Netflix has decided to begin reducing bit rates across all our streams in Europe for 30 days," a spokesperson from Netflix said. "We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25% while also ensuring a good quality service for our members."
Not SD resolution
FlatpanelsHD has found that Netflix still offers streaming in HD resolution as well as 4K HDR10 and 4K Dolby Vision for now. The company has not capped its streaming quality to SD resolution.
It appears that Netflix's approach is rather to cut off the higher bitrate levels. This is possible because Netflix uses adaptive bitrate meaning that all content is encoded and stored at multiple quality levels (bitrate, resolutions etc.). The viewer will automatically get the highest quality level available based on broadband speeds and hardware.
At the time of writing, FlatpanelsHD is seeing a 35-50% reduction in bitrate for some 4K streams while other 4K streams appear to be unaffected. We are seeing a more modest reduction in bitrate for HD streams but there are fluctuations here, too. As Netflix is still rolling out the changes, it is too early to draw conclusions. We refer to the comments section below for more information on how to check streaming quality on your Netflix streams at home.
This means that Netflix streaming in Europe will look more compressed than usual (higher levels of artefacts, softer details etc) but still relatively good compared to many other streaming services.
Apple, Amazon, Disney and Google/YouTube have not announced plans to reduce their streaming bitrate at his time.