To help ease the burden of increased internet usage due to COVID-19, YouTube has temporarily lowered its default video playback quality to standard definition for viewers in the European Union and United Kingdom.
This means that, for the next 30 days, users in those regions will automatically see videos at 480p or less. However, they can still manually change each video’s quality to high definition (720p and above) if they want to, YouTube tells Tubefilter.
The platform announced its decision this morning, after a meeting between Google CEO Sundar Pichai, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, and the EU’s internet market commissioner, Thierry Breton.
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“Millions of Europeans are adapting to social distancing measures thanks to digital platforms, helping them to telework, e-learn, and entertain themselves,” Breton said in a statement. “I warmly welcome the initiative that Google has taken to preserve the smooth functioning of the internet during the COVID-19 crisis.”
Breton has recently been campaigning for video platforms to lower playback quality so their traffic doesn’t take up increased amounts of EU/U.K. bandwidth–something that could cause network congestion and a slowdown of the internet for everyone in those regions. YouTube isn’t the first platform he’s convinced of his cause: Earlier this week, he spoke to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, which resulted in the streaming service announcing it’ll begin reducing bit rates across all streams in Europe for 30 days. Its goal is to “reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25% while also ensuring a good quality service for our members,” the company said.
Amazon has also lowered streaming quality for Prime Video, it announced today, and “is working with local authorities and internet service providers were needed to help mitigate any network congestion.”
I warmly 👍🏻 the initiative that #Google takes to preserve the smooth functioning of the Internet during the #COVID19 crisis by having #YouTube switch all 🇪🇺 traffic to SD by default. @sundarpichai and @SusanWojcicki demonstrate strong responsibility.https://t.co/jMNhFFpsxa
— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) March 20, 2020
So far, YouTube has not seen a sustained increase in overall usage, it tells Tubefilter. What it has noticed are changes in usage patterns that indicate people are working from home for more hours than normal, and during hours outside the usual 9-5 workday–which is actually spreading out traffic and lowering usage spikes.
“While we have seen only a few usage peaks, we have measures in place to automatically adjust our systems to use less network capacity,” a spokesperson says. “We will continue working with member state governments and network operators to minimize stress on the system, while also delivering a good user experience.”
This is the latest adjustment YouTube has made in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Last week, it made a first-time exception to its long-standing sensitive events policy, which normally demonetizes videos with “more than a passing mention” of tragedies. In mid-February, the platform said it would accordingly demonetize all coronavirus-related videos–but, because of the length of the pandemic, it’s now allowing “a limited number of channels” to run ads on COVID-19 content.
The platform has also partnered with the World Health Organization and regional healthcare organizations to remove coronavirus misinformation from its site, and to offer users geographically-specific, trustworthy data about COVID-19 in popup boxes on the home page.
And YouTube isn’t done: It’s set to debut a European ad campaign that urges users to follow social distancing guidelines and help flatten the curve. That campaign will roll out in the coming days, the company says.