Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

YouTube and Amazon to downgrade video quality due to coronavirus

Published Mar 22nd, 2020 2:07PM EDT
Image: Valentin Wolf/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

If you buy through a BGR link, we may earn an affiliate commission, helping support our expert product labs.

  • Following Netflix’s lead, both YouTube and Amazon announced plans to lower video stream quality in Europe to reduce strain on the Internet.
  • YouTube videos will now be in SD by default, but users can manually adjust individual videos back to HD if they choose.
  • With the coronavirus resulting in a surge of people now spending their days at home, there’s a concern that Internet providers won’t be able to handle what could be an unprecedented surge in traffic.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

With millions of people now staying at home during the day because of the coronavirus — either because they were laid off or are working from home — there’s been some concern that Internet bandwidth will be pushed to the limit. To this point, a report from Speedtest recently found that mean download speeds in areas that have been particularly impacted by Covid-19 did, in fact, go down.

In light of this, and as part of an effort to keep Internet connectivity robust, Netflix recently obliged with an EU request to degrade the quality of its video streams to reduce the strain on Internet infrastructure. Specifically, the EU asked Netflix to reduce the quality of its streams from HD to standard definition.

In response, Netflix last night announced its plan to reduce the bit rate across all streams in Europe for 30 days. The end result is that the average Netflix subscriber will use about 25% less data than before.

Following Netflix’s lead, YouTube today announced that all of its streams will be in standard definition by default. Users, though, will still have the ability to adjust the settings on individual videos and revert back to HD quality if they so choose.

In a statement on the matter provided to TechCrunch, a YouTube spokesperson explained:

People are coming to YouTube to find authoritative news, learning content and make connections during these uncertain times. While we have seen only a few usage peaks, we have measures in place to automatically adjust our system to use less network capacity. We are in ongoing conversations with the regulators (including Ofcom), 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. We will continue our work to minimize stress on the system, while also delivering a good user experience.

To be clear, Netflix and YouTube’s decision to degrade the quality of their video streams is only applicable to users in Europe. As of now, there’s no indication that a similar move might happen in the United States.

Also joining the party is Amazon, with the retailing giant noting that it decided to lower the quality of its video streams on Prime Video.

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

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.