On the eve of its main European launch, Disney+ has announced that it’s going to be joining the other major video streaming services by throttling back its ‘bandwidth utilisation’ across Europe in a bid to, supposedly, help broadband systems cope with the increase in demand caused by anti-Coronavirus measures.
In fact, Disney+ has gone even further in France, where in response to the request of the French government it’s actually postponed its launch from March 24 until April 7.
The Disney+ news came in a statement today from Kevin Mayer, Walt Disney Company’s Chairman of Direct-to-Consumer And International. As with Netflix, which became the first platform to announce a reduction in its streaming bandwidth on Thursday, Disney+ is “proactively instituting measures to lower our overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25% in all of the markets launching Disney+ on March 24th.”
Mayer’s statement goes further than anything Netflix has confirmed to date, though, by saying that “In the coming days, we will be monitoring Internet congestion and working closely with Internet service providers to further reduce bitrates as necessary to ensure they are not overwhelmed by consumer demand.” In other words, 25% might just be the start.
‘Look softer on TV than I should I might’ – Disney+ has announced it’s reducing its streaming … [+]
Photo: The Mandalorian, Walt Disney Studios
This all started last week on the back of a phone call between EU Commissioner Thierry Breton and Netflix CEO Max Hastings. As reported here, during this call it appears that Breton asked the streaming giant to stop streaming high definition and stick to standard definition to ease pressure on broadband services while so many children and employees are now self-isolating at home.
Fortunately in these days of 4K and 8K TVs, Netflix decided not to comply with Breton’s wishes of pointlessly streaming everything in standard definition. Instead it compromised and said it was going to start limiting its bandwidth usage by 25%.
Once Netflix had made this move it was pretty much inevitable that the other major streaming platforms would follow suit, rather than risk looking like they were being ‘irresponsible’ in a time of global crisis.
As I noted in my story about Netflix throttling its bandwidth on Thursday, though, it’s unclear at this point just how necessary any of this is. So far, all of the main UK internet providers, at least, are reporting that while they have indeed seen usage of their services rise between 20 and 50 percent in the past few days, they are still not concerned about being able to meet the demands of the self-isolating, home-working masses.
Furthermore, as reported by decrypt.co soon after the Netflix announcement on Thursday, David Clark, a senior research scientist at MIT and renowned Internet pioneer, believes the move to be unnecessary. He states that there’s plenty of internet bandwidth to go around – in Europe as well as in the rest of the Web-connected world. “[What’s happening] just tells me they don’t understand how the Internet works,” Clark concludes. (I strongly recommend you read the whole article once you’ve finished this one.)
People who have complained about these moves to downgrade the quality of streaming services have been accused by some of selfishly caring more about how good their streamed picture quality looks than the horrors of the Coronavirus pandemic.
In reality, though, the issue here – at least as things stand at the time of writing – is not about self-entitled video fans. Rather it’s about the apparent power of one EU commissioner with seemingly questionable levels of technical knowledge (it’s notable that Breton talked of switching HD to SD, with no mention of switching, say, 4K to HD) to be able to cause a reduction in the quality of paid-for entertainment services across an entire continent with apparently little if any actual justification or scrutiny.
Further to this point, it’s noticeable that none of the streaming services have decided to reduce their bandwidth utilization outside of Europe, despite Coronavirus now being a truly global threat.
None of the streaming services have been prepared to discuss in any technical detail how they’re achieving their bandwidth reductions, and end-user experiences with different portals for different streaming apps seem to be inconsistent at the moment. Though Apple TV+ seems to be the most aggressively affected; at the time of writing its streams are for me now a mushy, compressed-looking shadow of their normally pristine selves – and this is the experience, too, of the Apple experts at 9to5mac.com.
For the avoidance of doubt, if at any point people who actually know stuff about the Internet, such as the big ISPs and David Clark, start to say that we really are approaching some kind of Internet melt down, and that limiting video streaming quality at source really could make a difference, trust me: I and, I’m sure, most other AV fans around the world would instantly rally behind the throttling move. As things stand right now, though, it feels like a forced reaction to a knee-jerk, inadequately scrutinized political decision. And those sort of situations surely should always be at least be questioned, no matter what else might be going on around us.
If you found this story interesting, you might also like these:
Netflix To Reduce Picture Quality During Coronavirus Pandemic
Netflix And Disney+ Should Slash Picture Quality To Cut Coronavirus Internet Strain, Says EU Commissioner.