Some Netflix and YouTube users will see a drop in streaming quality from today – here’s why

(Image credit: Netflix)

Planning on streaming all weekend? Netflix and YouTube is cutting bitrates in Europe to help ease the load on bandwidth usage due to more people than usual working from home and self-isolating in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

For the next 30 days, you are likely to see a small – possibly unnoticeable – reduction in streaming quality as Netflix is scaling back on data usage by a quarter. The same applies to YouTube, with Reuters reporting that "all traffic" will be switched to standard definition "by default."

“Given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus, Netflix has decided to begin reducing bitrates across all our streams in Europe for 30 days,” the streaming giant said in a statement (via BBC).

So, what are bitrates and how does that affect you?

In layman’s terms, a bitrate is the amount of ‘bits’ of data that can be processed in a certain amount of time. You’ve probably seen your internet speeds vary from 20 megabits per second (mb/s) to 100 mb/s and beyond, depending on what broadband package you’re on. 

Notice how sometimes video streaming get pixelated when your internet speed drops? Same deal here with Netflix. Think of it as a slight cap for everyone in case of overload, with picture quality dropping from time to time.

That likely won’t matter to most. If you have the standard HD streaming package, the difference will be negligible. It’s those that have Ultra HD/4K packages that will be potentially worse off. 4K, inevitably, requires more data which may not be available during the downtime – so a short-term downgrade may be worth considering over the next month or so if you're not happy with the quality.

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Bradley Russell

I'm the Senior Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, focusing on news, features, and interviews with some of the biggest names in film and TV. On-site, you'll find me marveling at Marvel and providing analysis and room temperature takes on the newest films, Star Wars and, of course, anime. Outside of GR, I love getting lost in a good 100-hour JRPG, Warzone, and kicking back on the (virtual) field with Football Manager. My work has also been featured in OPM, FourFourTwo, and Game Revolution.