YouTube users who have suffered through slow streaming speeds in the past few days may have noticed a new feature on the site’s videos. As first noted by Quartz, a blue bar now pops up below laggy videos and offers viewers a chance to learn about the quality of their Internet service.
The blue bar asks users if they are “experiencing interruptions.” Anyone who clicks an adjacent box labeled “find out why” is taken to a page where the streaming speeds of their Internet service provider are laid out in hourly segments. From there, users are invited to “compare providers in your area,” an option that shows a list of available ISPs.
Some reports have described these reports as attempts to “shame” ISPs about their insufficient streaming speeds. Netflix previously mentioned ISPs whenever its users experienced buffering video, a practice it ceased after experiencing pushback from ISPs. YouTube’s new reports, first announced a month ago, occupy a similar space, though the major ISPs have yet to offer comment.
“Shaming” seems a bit strong, but YouTube’s streaming reports are a clear attempt to push blame for slow speeds onto the ISPs. With potential changes to net neutrality on the horizon, there is a widely-held belief that ISPs will implement a “fast lane” and promptly decrease the quality of service in the “normal lane”, thus encouraging customers to fork over more money for the improved service.
The ISPs can pull this off because viewers are more liable to blame slow speeds on the offending website rather than the invisible, faceless ISP. The direction of that blame was a big reason why Netflix was forced to pay Comcast to its massive bandwidth use. If it had not paid up, and its videos had continued to experience slow video, viewers would’ve held Netflix–not Comcast–responsible.
YouTube’s new reports will help it avoid a similar situation. The new interruptions bar is big, blue, and bold. When users take notice, they could gain a better understanding of who is responsible for sluggish streaming speeds, and educated consumers have the power to give YouTube leverage against any predatory ISPs.