Netflix has confirmed it will be reducing streaming quality in Europe during the coronavirus pandemic, presumably in a bid to ease congestion on crowded European networks. It was unclear if Netflix itself was experiencing issues as a result of the surge in network activity, or whether the steps were taken merely to reduce network congestion overall.
The coronavirus is having a trickling-down effect on networks around the world: massively increased demand for news and video content, workers telecommuting, and students using distance learning tools like Zoom have created unprecedented demand for high-speed, high-quality internet connectivity. Netflix is the single largest source of internet bandwidth consumption on the planet (though HTTP streaming as a whole does beat it, but that's every HTTP streaming service), and reducing its impact on an entire continent's network by 25% is a big, big deal.
At this time, Netflix hasn't said whether it plans to reduce streaming quality in the USA. As the situation here intensifies and more and more people stay home from work and school, though, it seems within the realm of possibility that Netflix could consider a similar move if there is clear evidence it would ease congestion on American networks.
Right now, most of the coronavirus' malefic influence on the US digitally has been in the form of telepresence services like Zoom. The app's rating has plummeted from 4.5 stars to just 3.6 (though it is up from a low of 2.0). There have been persistent complaints about the highly popular service's stability and reliability in recent days, and hopefully they'll be sorted out.
By the way, if you've burned through all the Netflix you can handle, you should check out Sling or your local library's on-demand video selection on Kanopy. In the meantime, just be happy you're still getting 1080p, I guess.
Netflix has released a full statement about reducing its internet traffic. The company explained that while all resolution options (1080p, 4K, etc.) will continue to be available, they will use lower-bandwidth versions:
In normal circumstances, we have many (sometimes dozens) of different streams for a single title within each resolution. In Europe, for the next 30 days, within each category we’ve simply removed the highest bandwidth streams. If you are particularly tuned into video quality you may notice a very slight decrease in quality within each resolution. But you will still get the video quality you paid for.
Netflix also mentioned that several internet service providers in Latin America and other regions have asked for similar traffic reductions, so reduced quality streams are starting to expand outside of Europe. However, the company made it clear that it is only degrading video quality when asked by ISPs or local governments:
So we will provide relief to ISPs who are dealing with large government-mandated “shelter in place” orders by providing the 25% traffic reduction we’ve started in Europe. For other networks, we’ll stick with our normal procedures - until and unless they experience issues of their own. Our goal is simple: to maintain the quality of service for our members, while supporting ISPs who are facing unprecedented strain on their networks.