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YouTube joins Netflix in reducing video quality in Europe

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Streams now set to standard definition by default

Illustration by William Joel / The Verge

YouTube is reducing the quality of its videos in Europe, as an increase in home usage strains the continent’s internet during the novel coronavirus outbreak, Reuters reports. “We are making a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default,” the company said in a statement.

The decision comes after EU industry chief Thierry Breton called on streaming platforms to help reduce their load on the continent’s infrastructure. Internet traffic is increasing as more people spend time at home in line with social-distancing guidelines during the pandemic. There are fears about the strain this could place on the internet’s infrastructure, and cause further disruption to remote workers and e-learning activities now that businesses and schools have been shuttered.

The decision follows Netflix’s announcement that it will reduce the bitrate of its streams for 30 days, in an attempt to lower its network traffic by 25 percent. Video streaming is a major source of internet traffic, BBC News notes, alongside game downloads, while remote-work technologies like webmail and video-conferencing are thought to place relatively less strain on networks.

However, internet providers have stressed that their networks have enough headroom to handle the increased demand. British telecoms provider BT recently put out a statement in which it said that while weekday daytime traffic has increased by between 35 and 60 percent, it is still half of average evening peak usage, and “nowhere near” its network’s full capacity. Vodafone and TalkTalk, which also provide services to UK households, gave similar assurances to BBC News despite also seeing increases in web traffic.