The platform bets that most won’t go through the manual procedure
A week ago, YouTube threw words to reduce streaming quality in the European Union to avoid clogging its servers and hiking up the electricity bill. The request came from European officials after the demand for online services spiked to unprecedented levels. YouTube kept its word, defaulted all videos to SD (standard definition) aka 480p globally to minimize the stress on the system.
YouTube took the decision because apparently networks can’t cope with all the people staying at home due to coronavirus-related movement restrictions. However, this went global. This will be rolling out everywhere over the next few days, for a month.
Now when you want to stream videos on YouTube it will start off in SD (480p), however, you can still manually choose to up the resolution. It’s just that you’ll have to do that for every single video, every single time. The move can be successful because more than 70% of YouTube watch time comes from mobile devices. Thus, YouTube is betting that most people won’t go through that manual procedure and thus this move will relieve the pressure on ISPs.
Not the pandemic, but YouTube can be global
Because obviously, no one’s ever watched YouTube videos at work before, people are only now discovering the service since they’re stuck at home. It’s unclear why such a preemptive move was needed – after all, there have been no widespread Internet outages anywhere, even with billions of people self-isolating and social distancing and whatnot. But sometimes the appearance of doing ‘something’ is apparently preferable to people (and companies), even if there’s no actual reason for the move. And this is YouTube’s ‘something’. Enjoy the 90s again, with their amazing default resolution!
Similarly, Netflix was encouraged to reduce its data consumption by 25% and viewers will still find the picture quality good enough. Usually, one hour of video streaming in standard definition (480p) uses about 1 GB data, while HD can get up to 3 GB/h.
Both companies planned for their respective platforms after a phone call with Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market. Later he praised both companies and their “very prompt action”. Breton said the change will “preserve the smooth functioning of the internet during the Covid-19 crisis”.