Entertainment

Netflix, Bell Media reduce video quality to lower internet bandwidth use

Netflix and several other streaming giants have announced they are lowering video quality for customers, in order to grapple with the pressure put on their systems from increased use.

Data-slashing strategies come as online traffic surges due to COVID-19 pandemic

Netflix — along with Crave, YouTube and other streaming services — is lowering video quality for its subscribers in Canada as the streaming giant attempts to reduce soaring demands on internet bandwidth. (Matt Rourke/The Associated Press)

Netflix is lowering video quality for its subscribers in Canada as it attempts to reduce soaring demands on internet bandwidth in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The streaming giant says it introduced changes on Thursday that are designed to slash its data traffic by 25 per cent, as internet service providers deal with a surge in user activity.

The lower bandwidth streams of Netflix programs should still deliver the usual quality of each plan, the company said, whether it's ultra-high definition 4K, high-definition or standard definition.

"We believe that this will provide significant relief to congested networks and will be deploying it in Canada for the next 30 days," said Ken Florance, vice-president of content delivery, in a statement on Thursday.

The move comes as telecom companies are seeing a rise in bandwidth usage while Canadians self-isolate at home and use video-streaming services more frequently than usual.

Bell Media said it's planning its own traffic measures for its Crave streaming service, which offers programming from HBO and Showtime. The telecommunication company's quality reductions may downgrade higher-definition streams even more than Netflix.

"Crave does plan to temporarily reduce the quality of streams on certain devices," the company said in a statement late Thursday.

The Crave 1080p and 4K streams will be reduced to 720p on Android mobile devices, Chromecast and Apple products, including its Apple TV devices, it noted.

Netflix quality reduction in place worldwide

Netflix previously introduced bandwidth measures in other parts of the world over the past two weeks. Similar reductions in video quality were made in Europe, India, Australia, New Zealand and some Latin American countries.

In a blog post last week, Florance explained that Netflix has many different levels of streaming quality for each title within each resolution tier. With the changes, Netflix is simply removing the highest bandwidth streams, which lowers the bitrate per second on the streams, he said.

"If you are particularly tuned into video quality, you may notice a very slight decrease in quality within each resolution. But you will still get the video quality you paid for," Florance wrote at the time.

"We are living through a global crisis, and we all have a responsibility to help where we can," he added.

Other streaming companies have made changes in certain regions to limit bandwidth.

YouTube announced similar moves to ease the pressures on internet traffic earlier this week, while Disney Plus and Amazon's Prime Video have enacted bandwidth measures in Europe.

Disney told CBC News it is lowering its overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25 per cent throughout Canada as a proactive measure.

"We are 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," Disney said in a statement.

Representatives for Amazon did not immediately provide comment.

With files from CBC News

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