COVID-19: Youtube, Hotstar, Netflix etc to stop HD streaming

Several video-on-demand services in India, including Youtube, Hotstar, Tiktok, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Zee5, have decided to suspend the streaming of high-definition content as long as the Coronavirus lockdown is in place.

They will continue to offer HD content on wired broadband, such as fiber and copper networks.

The move is to prevent the cellular network from deteriorating as people start using these to consume content.

India implemented a countrywide shutdown for all non-essential services involving the movement of people — including regular offices, shops, movie theaters and any other activity that requires people to move about.

The lockdown is designed to prevent Coronavirus infected people from spreading the virus to others via social contact, and will be in place till the middle of next month.

“The Prime Minister’s call for social distancing and now a total lockdown has led to people staying at their homes. This has caused an unprecedented surge in mobile internet consumption.

“As a result, the Government and the telecom operators are concerned about its potential impact on the cellular network infrastructure,” the companies said in a joint statement.

“The digital industry is acutely aware of this challenge and is committed to ensuring that all citizens are able to access mobile networks wherever and whenever they want.

“The digital industry has decided to act immediately in the larger national and consumer interest and to ensure the robustness of the cellular network.

“It was unanimously agreed that as an exceptional measure, all companies will immediately adopt measures, including temporarily defaulting HD and ultra-HD streaming to SD content or offering only SD content, at bitrates no higher than 480p on cellular networks. These voluntary measures will be in effect until April 14. All participants are immediately taking measures,” they said.

The decision was taken at a meeting that was attended by Uday Shankar, Chairman, Star & Disney India, NP Singh (Sony), Sanjay Gupta (Google), Ajit Mohan (Facebook), Sudhanshu Vats (Viacom18), Gaurav Gandhi (Amazon Prime Video) and Punit Goenka (Zee). Nikhil Gandhi of Tiktok, Ambika Khurana of Netflix, Karan Bedi of MX Player and Varun Narang of Hotstar also attended the virtual meeting.

Internet consumption in India has been on a rising trend in recent years, with the amount of data consumed on mobile networks doubling every six to eight months.

While mobile networks such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio have invested billions of dollars in improving the carrying capacity of their networks over the last three years, the networks are not able to cope with the kind of traffic generated by the shutdown.

Globally too, players like Netflix and Google have announced similar moves.

Besides telecom networks, the sudden surge may also affect the ability of streaming video providers to continue to serve their customers in a satisfactory manner due to the strain on their servers.

The issue is less of a concern on wired networks as they have much more carrying capacity and the number of users is also much lower.

On cellular, it was feared that the high levels of video usage might compromise the ability of other users to use mobile internet for more urgent purposes like communication and working from home.