Amazon’s Prime Video, the world’s second-largest streaming service, is set to join YouTube and Netflix in reducing the speed of its streams across Europe to make sure broadband networks can handle the surge in usage as millions are confined to their homes.

It is understood that the BBC is discussing whether to implement similar temporary measures for the iPlayer, which has the largest UK audience of any streaming service, along with Disney+, which launches across most of western Europe and the UK next week.

An Amazon Prime Video spokesman said: “We support the need for careful management of telecom services to ensure they can handle the increased internet demand, with so many people now at home full-time due to Covid-19. Prime Video is working with local authorities and internet service providers where needed to help mitigate any network congestion, including in Europe, where we’ve already begun the effort to reduce streaming bitrates while maintaining a quality streaming experience for our customers.”

YouTube, the world’s largest free video service, with 2.1bn monthly users, has announced it is to reduce the quality of its streams across Europe to standard definition for a period of 30 days. The agreement, which follows a similar move by Netflix on Thursday, comes after talks with Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for industry.

“Millions of Europeans are adapting to social distancing measures thanks to digital platforms, helping them to telework, e-learn and entertain themselves,” Breton said. “I warmly welcome the initiative that Google has taken to preserve the smooth functioning of the internet during the Covid-19 crisis by having YouTube switch all EU traffic to standard definition by default.”

YouTube said it has systems in place to manage usage peaks but it has been overwhelmed in the past by exceptional levels of traffic. During the 2018 World Cup, YouTube’s subscription service in the US suffered an outage during England’s semi-final against Croatia.

“People are coming to YouTube to find authoritative news, learning content and make connections during these uncertain times,” YouTube said. “While we have seen only a few usage peaks, we have measures in place to automatically adjust our system to use less network capacity. We are in ongoing conversations with the regulators (including Ofcom), governments and network operators all over Europe, and are making a commitment to temporarily default all traffic in the UK and the EU to standard definition. We will continue our work to minimise stress on the system, while also delivering a good user experience.”

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Amazon is second only to Netflix in global subscriptions, with an estimated 118m Prime Video users. There are about 35m users across Europe, with 9m of those in the UK, according to Ampere Analysis.

BritBox, the fledgling streaming joint venture between ITV and the BBC, said that it will not at this stage follow suit.

“We have not reduced or restricted our highest-quality streams on BritBox, which are full high-definition, but will keep the situation under review including any official guidance or feedback from partners and suppliers,” a spokeswoman for the service said.

Ofcom, the UK broadcasting and media regulator, is in discussions with TV, telecoms and broadband companies about what measures may need to be taken to avoid broadband congestion.

“We’re working with major broadband firms and service providers to understand their ongoing plans for keeping networks resilient,” a spokesman said. “We’re also engaging with the government, which is leading on planning and response to the virus.”


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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