Health and Healthcare Systems

Netflix is reducing its streaming quality in Europe to avoid straining the internet during COVID-19

Netflix logo is seen in front of diplayed coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in this illustration taken March 19, 2020.

On Thursday, Netflix announced it would reduce bit rates for 30 days across Europe. Image: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Avery Hartmans
Tech Reporter, Business Insider
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COVID-19

  • Netflix is reducing streaming rates in Europe amid the coronavirus outbreak.
  • The company announced Thursday it would reduce bit rates for 30 days across Europe after CEO Reed Hastings spoke with EU Commissioner Thierry Breton about reducing traffic to European networks.
  • Video, which accounts for the bulk of network traffic, puts a strain on the infrastructure of the internet. Netflix videos in HD, for example, use 3 GB of data per hour compared with standard definition videos, which use 1 GB of data per hour.
  • Netflix automatically adjusts the quality of your videos based on your internet capacity, but you can also change it yourself in your account settings.

Netflix has announced it will reduce streaming rates in Europe amid the coronavirus outbreak.

EU Commissioner Thierry Breton on Wednesday tweeted that he'd spoken with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and asked Netflix to stop showing video in high definition in order to "secure Internet access for all."

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On Thursday afternoon, Netflix announced a changed to its platform in Europe.

"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 Netflix spokesperson told Business Insider in an email. "We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25 percent while also ensuring a good quality service for our members."

Coronavirus Covid-19 virus infection China Hubei Wuhan contagion spread
An infographic showing data consumption per internet minute in 2019, before coronavirus. Image: Visual Capitalist

As the coronavirus continues to spread worldwide, people are increasingly turning to solutions like video calls and streaming to stay connected or entertained. It's not clear yet how networks, particularly home networks and the internet service providers that power them, will be able to handle the increase in people working from home or students taking classes virtually.

For example, Akamai, a major cloud and cybersecurity provider, has already seen an increase in daily traffic of more that 50%, but appears to be holding up just fine. Akamai said its services are running normally. Companies like AT&T have also said they're prepared for times like this.

But video, which accounts for about 70% of network traffic, puts the biggest strain on the internet. Netflix videos in standard definition, for example, use 1 GB of data per hour, while HD videos use 3 GB of data per hour.

While Netflix automatically adjusts your stream quality based on your internet capacity, users who might be looking to use less data can also control the setting on their own. Once you're logged into your Netflix account, click on your profile icon in the upper-right corner, then select "Account," scroll down to "My Profile," and click "Playback settings." You can then select the quality of your video and Netflix will let you know how much data your videos will use.

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