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YouTube to Switch to Standard Definition Viewing in the EU

Stephanie Sengwe

Yesterday, news came out that the European Union was urging streaming companies to stop showing videos in high definition in order to prevent internet bandwidth from slowing down. It seems YouTube has taken heed to the request as the platform has limited streaming in European countries to standard-definition video by default, according to Variety.

“[W]e are making a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default,” YouTube said in a statement. “While we have seen only a few usage peaks, we have measures in place to automatically adjust our system to use less network capacity.”

YouTube becomes the second of the major streaming platforms to make adjustments in order to accommodate the traffic generated by social distancing, following Netflix.

“On Thursday, Netflix said it would temporarily cut video bit rates for the next 30 days in Europe, estimating that it will reduce the company’s traffic on networks in the region by around 25 percent. It didn’t provide details about the level of video quality European customers can expect to see,” Variety stated.

EU internal market and services commissioner Thierry Breton revealed he had spoken to Netflix chairman and CEO Reed Hastings regarding the concerns. Breton urged users, as well as companies, to use standard definition whenever possible in order to secure internet access for all.

“Commissioner Breton is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that the internet continues to run smoothly during this critical time,” a Netflix spokesperson said. “We’ve been focused on network efficiency for many years, including providing our open connect service for free to telecommunications companies.”

According to TechCrunch, Amazon has also followed suit and will be reducing streaming bitrates in Europe as well. “We support the need for careful management of telecom services to ensure they can handle the increased internet demand with so many people now at home full-time due to COVID-19,” the company said in a statement to TechCrunch.

“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.”

So far, the Commission noted that although there has been a spike in internet usage, no outages have been reported.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also revealed that the platform has been loaded with users, with voice and video calls on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger spiking to more than double their usual levels.