YouTube, Amazon Prime Video follow Netflix in throttling video quality throughout Europe [Update]

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YouTube and Amazon Prime Video cut streaming bitrates in Europe.
YouTube and Amazon Prime Video cut streaming bitrates in Europe.
Image: Brad Gibson/Cult of Mac

YouTube and Amazon Prime Video confirmed Friday they will will start throttling video quality in Europe in an effort to reduce the strain on network infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The temporary measure will see all YouTube videos displayed in standard definition by default, though, it is still be possible for viewers to select a higher resolution.

“We are making a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default,” YouTube said a press statement.

“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 minimise stress on the system, while also delivering a good user experience.”

YouTube said it has systems in place to manage usage peaks but it has been overwhelmed in the past by exceptional levels of traffic.

In a statement on Friday, Amazon said it agreed that telecom services need to be managed carefully during the coronavirus pandemic, otherwise people won’t be able to work from home and minimize economic turmoil.

“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,” an Amazon statement read. “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 while maintaining a quality streaming experience for our customers.”

The announcements come a day after Netflix revealed similar plans.

User can expect to see blurrier videos as a result. However, YouTube isn’t disabling high-definition options; it is still possible to upgrade video quality to 720p, 1080p, 2K, and even 4K (where available) for now.

EU asks streaming services to cut bitrates

Despite giving users the option to change video quality, this should have a dramatic affect. Many, especially those who use affordable devices with low-resolution screens, may not notice the change — or switch to HD.

YouTube’s decision comes after EU industry chief Thierry Breton called on streaming platforms — and reportedly spoke to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai directly — to cut streaming bitrates in Europe to prevent an overload.

“I warmly welcome the initiative that Google has taken to preserve the smooth functioning of the internet during the COVID19 crisis,” Breton said in response to YouTube’s statement, reports The Next Web.

Keeping the internet running smoothly

It is expected that the coronavirus crisis, which is forcing millions around the world to stay at home, will result in a significant increase in internet demand. More and more people will be going online for work and entertainment.

Some European telecoms providers have already reported spikes in data traffic in recent days. This prompted EU chiefs to call for new measures that might help prevent an overload and total breakdown in connectivity.