As home viewing surges in Europe, Netflix will take a load off the internet

Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) formally makes Philip (Matt Smith) a British prince in Season 2 of Netflix's biographical drama "The Crown."
Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) formally makes Philip (Matt Smith) a British prince in Season 2 of Netflix’s biographical drama “The Crown.”
(Robert Viglasky / Netflix)

Netflix on Thursday said it would reduce its impact on European internet traffic for 30 days, after a European Union official said a streaming surge caused by the coronavirus scare could strain the region’s internet capacity.

The Los Gatos-based streamer said it made the decision following discussions between CEO Reed Hastings and Commissioner Thierry Breton over the “extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus.”

Netflix said it would reduce its bit rates, or the bits per second, to transmit video streams onto screens.

“We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25% while also ensuring a good quality service for our members,” Netflix said in a statement.


The push comes as Internet and cellular providers are requesting additional bandwidth as more people are streaming video at home amid the rapid spread of coronavirus. Some are increasing the amount of time they are watching shows and movies on streaming apps like Roku, while others are using business apps such as Zoom to conduct meetings and attend classes.

On Wednesday, Breton suggested on Twitter that streams could be switched to standard definition when high-definition was not necessary.

“To beat #COVID19, we #StayAtHome,” Breton tweeted on Wednesday. “Teleworking & streaming help a lot but infrastructures might be in strain.”


The reduction in bit rates applies to Netflix users in Europe. The company will work with Internet service providers and governments around the world and apply these changes if needed elsewhere, said a source close to Netflix who was not authorized to comment.

Netflix customers in Europe will continue to receive Full HD and 4K streams if they subscribe to those plans, the person said.

Some subscribers may see a perceptible visual difference in quality but others may not, and factors that will determine this include what networks they use to access the internet and the device they use to view Netflix, the source said.