YouTube follows Netflix in limiting streaming quality amid coronavirus outbreak

The platform is also launching a dedicated coronavirus news shelf.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

YouTube is following in the footsteps of Netflix and will throttle streaming bit rates across Europe to relieve Internet traffic pressures.

In an effort to contain and limit the speed of the spread of coronavirus/COVID-19 during the global pandemic, many businesses have begun asking staff to work from home, when possible. At the time of writing, there are over 245,000 confirmed cases across 163 countries and regions. 

See also: Netflix agrees to reduce streaming bit rates to Europe

While staying at home is not a realistic proposition for everyone, workers now finding themselves at home in front of a computer screen -- or those unfortunately now out of a job -- require bandwidth, and an uptick in the use of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime could eventually cause traffic flow issues. 

Video streaming now makes up a substantial proportion of bandwidth requests. As a result, YouTube and Netflix have been in discussions with European regulators to try and resolve this concern before it becomes a reality. 

European Commissioner Thierry Breton previously urged content streaming service providers to consider throttling bit rates to prevent Internet traffic overloading, which could cause disruption to those at home either in isolation or those now required to work remotely. 

On Friday, YouTube said it will reduce streaming quality across EU countries.

"People are coming to YouTube to find authoritative news, learning content and make connections during these uncertain times," a YouTube spokesperson told ZDNet. "While we have seen only a few usage peaks, we have measures in place to automatically adjust our system to use less network capacity."

"Following the meeting between Google's CEO, Sundar Pichai, YouTube's CEO, Susan Wojcicki, and Commissioner Breton we are making a commitment to temporarily default all traffic in the EU to Standard Definition," the company added. "We will continue working with member state governments and network operators to minimize stress on the system, while also delivering a good user experience."

YouTube said the measures will be in place for 30 days. 

Traffic demands are increasing. As an example, in the United Kingdom, Internet Service Provider (ISP) BT says weekday daytime traffic has increased by between 35 and 60% daily, peaking at 7.5Tb/s, but added that this still falls short of an average evening peak demand and overall network capacity of 17.5 Tb/s. 

CNET: Amazon's first coronavirus case in a US warehouse could complicate shipping

YouTube is following in the footsteps of Netflix, which has also pledged to take steps to reduce traffic burdens. This week, the content provider said bit rates will be reduced "across all our streams in Europe for 30 days."

The majority of subscribers on standard plans may not be impacted, but those paying for high-quality streaming could see a slight reduction in quality. By taking this measure, Netflix anticipates that Netflix traffic on European networks will be reduced by roughly 25 percent. 

In addition, YouTube plans to launch a COVID-19 news shelf, according to a tweet published by the company on Thursday. 

TechRepublic: Global HR leaders respond to coronavirus: 48% of employers require sick leave for COVID-19

"We want everyone to have access to authoritative content during this trying time, so we're launching a COVID-19 news shelf on our homepage in 16 countries," YouTube said. "We'll expand to more countries, as well."

While there is little detail on which sources will be included, YouTube's screenshot includes ABC News, the Washington Post, and CNN. 


ZDNet has reached out to YouTube and will update if we hear back. 

Coronavirus: How to clean and disinfect your tech gadgets

Previous and related coverage

Have a tip? Get in touch securely via WhatsApp | Signal at +447713 025 499, or over at Keybase: charlie0

Editorial standards