Netflix on Thursday said it would significantly cut back its streaming bandwidth in Europe to help avoid internet outages while millions of people stay home because of the coronavirus outbreak. The decision comes after the European Union pressed Netflix and other streamers to switch from high definition to standard definition streaming to keep the continent’s internet infrastructure from crashing.
“Following the discussions between Commissioner Thierry Breton and [Netflix CEO] 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 TheWrap. “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.”
On Wednesday, European Commissioner Thierry Breton tweeted he had talked to Hastings about the matter, saying it would help “secure internet access for all.”
Breton’s urging comes as Netflix usage has spiked in Europe as millions of people are staying inside due to the coronavirus outbreak. Netflix app downloads surged 57% last week in Italy and 34% in Spain last week, according to data provided by Sensor Tower.
Teleworking & streaming help a lot but infrastructures might be in strain.
To secure Internet access for all, let’s #SwitchToStandard definition when HD is not necessary.
— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) March 18, 2020
A Netflix rep, when asked if a similar step would need to be taken in the U.S., said: “We are starting with Europe given concerns relayed from the Commissioner about European networks. We will continue to work with ISPs and governments around the world and apply these changes as needed elsewhere.”
The EU is also calling on internet users to view lower resolution content and limit their time online whenever possible. With more people working at home due to COVID-19, Vodafone — which has about 120 million customers in Europe — reported a 50% increase in internet usage earlier this week.
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday said the company was also experiencing major increases in time spent on Facebook, comparable to New Year’s Eve and other holidays.