Netflix Reduces Streaming Bitrate, Won’t Affect Viewing Quality

The reduced streaming quality comes after the telecom industry body asked the govt to reduce OTT bandwidth usage.

Tech News
4 min read
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Popular streaming giants like Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video have confirmed they will be reducing streaming quality for their users in India. While Netflix has said it will manage bandwidth consumption by reducing the bit rate quality of videos without making a big difference to its users.

These changes are being made as the country looks to manage its existing internet bandwidth to support people working from home as the country faces a major lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic,

This was suggested by the Cellular Operator Association of India (COAI) on 22 March, who had reached out to the Department of Telecom (DoT) via a letter mentioning streaming players like Hotstar, Netflix and Alt Balaji should lower their video quality so that internet service providers (ISPs) can continue to offer high-speed internet to their users in the country.


The letter from COAI accessed by The Quint, also mentions that streaming providers “should cooperate with the telecom service providers (TSPs), so as to manage the traffic distribution patterns which are likely to strain the network infrastructure at a time when it is needed for various critical requirements.”


Streaming Players on List

  • Hotstar
  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • Alt Balaji
  • Zee5
  • Voot
  • Sony Liv
  • YouTube
  • Hoichoi
  • Viuclip
“We understand that there are various measures that the streaming platform companies can undertake in this present situation to continue to provide a suitable level of service to their customers at the most appropriate bitrate required, one such measure being temporarily moving to SD (Standard Definition) rather than HD (High Definition) streaming.”
COAI letter to DoT accessed by The Quint

Steps Suggested By COAI

  1. Reduce streaming quality from HD (720 pixels) to SD (480 pixels) for users
  2. Replace pop-up ads with information message about the virus
  3. Other technical measures possible to reduce load on the internet

This is what Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video and Zee5 had to share about their actions after the Indian government reached out to them.

“We are mindful of this extraordinary situation and are closely monitoring it. In the larger consumer and national interest, we are geared to dynamically make changes and are prepared to reduce the bitrate for our HD streams, should the need arise.” 
Hotstar spokesperson to The Quint 

Having said that, the Disney-owned streaming platform also pointed out that its technology has been designed to support heavy bandwidth usage, without putting a strain on the internet providers.

“Our video streaming is based on Adaptive Bitrate Streaming, which ensures that we are lean in internet consumption. We optimise our encoding on the basis of the type of content complexity (entertainment versus live sports) and we also extensively measure the most common bit-rates that customers can stream at in order to be lean on data. “
Hotstar spokesperson to The Quint 

Amazon Prime Video is also making the necessary changes at its end to meet the demand.

“Amazon Prime Video is working with local authorities, mobile service providers and Internet service providers where needed to help mitigate any network congestion, including in India where we’ve already begun the effort to reduce streaming bit rates whilst maintaining a quality streaming experience for our customers.”
Prime Video spokesperson to The Quint

Zee5 is also adhering to the changes, which are being deployed on the backend to support lower streaming quality to save data usage.

“We understand Indian audiences data consumption pattern and have initiated measures to restrict the streams being delivered on any device at the player level, which will ensure the existing bandwidth is not overstretched.”
Tarun Katial, CEO, ZEE5 India to The Quint

Netflix has shared its statement with The Quint, highlighting the need to adhere to the request made by the government, which ensures 25 percent less strain on the internet network.

This means the pixel quality will remain the same (SD, HD, UHD) but their bit rate will be reduced to make sure the internet providers can manage the extra loading on their network.
“Given the crisis, we’ve developed a way to reduce Netflix’s traffic on telecommunications networks by 25 percent while also maintaining the quality of our service. So consumers should continue to get the quality that comes with their plan - whether it’s Ultra-High, High or Standard Definition. We believe that this will provide significant relief to congested networks and will be deploying it in India for the next 30 days.”
Ken Florance,  VP - Content Delivery, Netflix to The Quint

Why Should Consumers Suffer?

A few days back most ISPs claimed they have the infrastructure in place which can easily manage the bandwidth demands of the users. But looking at these suggestions from COAI, it is obvious the telcos are not able to match the sudden increase in demand for internet bandwidth from consumers and various internet tracking reports suggest there is a spike in consumption.

It is important the streaming players find the right balance between streaming quality and bandwidth, especially for those who pay for their services.

This might not make a difference to those who can stream content for free, but once the dust settles on the pandemic, these companies could find themselves adding more users than ever before.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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