YouTube makes SD video the default over Euro coronavirus concerns

YouTube will cut its streaming quality in Europe to reduce strain on networks, after EU lawmakers voiced concerns that extra traffic from people forced to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic might overload ISPs. The decision comes shortly after Netflix confirmed that it would be reducing its streaming bitrate in Europe.

Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the internal market, confirmed yesterday that he had spoken to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings about the potential impact of the streaming service on internet connections. While he recognized that being able to work from home and use streaming were helpful for those facing self-isolation demands and quarantine, "infrastructures might be in strain," he explained.

Netflix responded by confirming Thursday afternoon that it would be reducing its streaming quality for customers in Europe. While the resolution would not be altered – those paying for a 4K package would still get 4K resolution, for example – Netflix would lower the bitrate that it streamed that resolution at. Some customers are not expected to see any difference, while others may notice a slight change.

Now, Reuters reports, YouTube is doing something similar. "We are making a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default," a company spokesperson said. Breton had talked to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki about the European Commission's concerns.

It's unclear how long YouTube's change will last for. Netflix had said that it planned to reduce bitrates for the next 30 days, though it's possible the switch could last longer as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.

Typically, YouTube videos load in an automatic quality setting. That changes the resolution it streams at by calculating the best quality depending on the speed of the connection available. However viewers are able to override the decision with a pop-up control, including selecting the maximum resolution that the video's uploader made available.

What seems likely is that viewers will still be able to override YouTube's switch to standard definition (SD) as the default. You can see how that might affect your favorite YouTube videos by choosing "480p" from the resolution options. The Alphabet-owned company has not said how much data it predicts could be saved by the changes.