The European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services asked major streaming platforms like Netflix and YouTube to reduce the impact of streaming on the internet. Another side effect of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Some feared they would now only be able to view content in Standard Definition (SD).
However, Netflix quickly responded that consumers will "still be able to stream HD and even Ultra HD content — just that the video will be delivered with lower image quality." The imposed measures on people to work from home in Europe have started to put networks under pressure. For many, the request was a huge surprise. Netflix plans to act on the request, but the policy won't be implemented across the board, at least, not yet: "We will provide relief to ISPs who are dealing with large government-mandated 'shelter in place' orders by providing the 25% traffic reduction started in Europe. For other networks, we’ll stick with our normal procedures — until and unless they experience issues of their own." Let’s try to understand why Netflix was asked to lower the bitrate.
Data caps are already in place
In the US, there is a zero-rating mechanism that caps Netflix traffic on mobile networks. And it’s is already in place. However, data caps don't stop at the border. When Netflix is running on a mobile network in other countries the resolution is also reduced to SD. To be fair, SD still provides a good quality of experience and also reduces the quota usage. But what is the user experience on a UHD screen when watching SD content? It can be less than ideal for the estimated 30% of Europeans who watch TV on a UHD screen.
Tips to improve the viewing experience for SD on HD devices
So what can you do? The rapid growth of streaming has recently led to incredibly innovative compression technologies, resulting in ability to reduce bandwidth consumption by up to 50%? This recent AI-based enhancement built on top of Harmonic's software-based PURE Compression Engine™ is known as EyeQ™ Content-Aware Encoding.
The core technology leverages AI-based algorithms that adapt to the human visual system (HVS) and as a result, deliver a superior viewing experience on any device at low bitrates. The most impressive component of EyeQ is that it delivers its bandwidth savings using a standard AVC codec and with no requirement to upgrade client devices while achieving nearly exceptional savings. In addition, the technology has been proven to reduce buffering, significantly improve the viewing experience and reducing overall CDN and storage costs. A recent case study by a telecom operator provides an in-depth view of the benefits and helps explain the impact this could have on your network. So instead of just reducing the resolution, we can keep the highest quality and help reduce congestion during these trying times.
Partnerships can help ensure high-quality video
The role of the Internet Service Provider (ISP) may evolve in relation to streaming video. An ISP can technically put a governor on traffic, but it would require having infrastructures deployed at all ISP networks. It’s not a solution that can deploy overnight. Netflix for example currently manages caches located in ISP network POPs, very deep in the network. Some ISPs may find it to be too much of a hassle to allow other providers to do the same. It would seem that partnerships are key to creating a solution that ensures the best quality. In an ideal world, a streaming platform could use the ISP telemetry to dynamically reduce the traffic. It would be based on the overall traffic in the area of contention and not globally, like mobile operators do in the US, or now even in Europe over fixed networks. The ISP would then provide real-time information from the network, and the streaming platform can use that information to adapt the manifest accordingly.
At Harmonic we continue our innovation efforts to best address issues related to video quality, compression, and delivery. Our cloud-native platforms and end-to-end solutions also leverage a reliable partner ecosystem to meet the world's changing demands for video delivery. At the end of the day, your main goal is to keep your services up, running and optimized at all times. You don't want image quality, bitrate or bandwidth to impede on your service success. Do you have questions about how to effectively optimize your video delivery for pristine video quality all the time? Let us know and we’ll get in touch.