Netflix reduces streaming bitrate in South Africa

Netflix has confirmed to MyBroadband it will reduce its streaming bitrate for South African subscribers to reduce congestion on networks.

This change has been implemented to reduce congestion on local networks as more people use Netflix due to the 21-day lockdown imposed by the government to combat the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Netflix reduced its streaming bitrate in Europe earlier this month in an effort to reduce congestion as its traffic spiked considerably due to more people staying home.

The streaming service has announced it will reduce its bitrate across South Africa and Africa after 23:59 on 30 March 2020. This will last for 30 days.

Bitrate refers to the number of bits per second transmitted through a network. In the context of streaming, a higher bitrate accommodates better video quality due to more data being streamed per second.

Maintaining quality

While a lower bitrate usually means lower-quality videos for streaming services, Netflix said it has found a way to maintain the quality of its video streams while reducing traffic load by 25%.

“Given the crisis, we’ve developed a way to reduce Netflix’s traffic on telecommunications networks by 25% while also maintaining the quality of our service,” Netflix said.

“So consumers should continue to get the quality that comes with their plan – whether it’s Ultra-High, High, or Standard Definition.”

“We believe this will provide significant relief to congested networks and we will be deploying it in South Africa and the rest of the continent for the next 30 days.”

Netflix offers a number of bitrate options for each video quality option, and by removing the highest-bitrate steam, it can still offer video streams at the same resolution which use less bandwidth.

Commenting on the bitrate reduction, Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams applauded the move from Netflix to reduce congestion on South Africa’s networks.

“We commend the interventions that the industry is putting in place to ensure that network availability remains at optimum levels during this period where we are experiencing increased traffic due to people being home and consuming more online content,” she said.

“The resolve by Netflix to reduce bit rates is set to alleviate pressure on the networks by 25% and as such we appreciate and support the initiative.”

Massive boost in Netflix traffic

South African Netflix traffic has increased substantially due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

Local ISP Cool Ideas previously stated it has seen a major increase in traffic on its network as a side-effect of the outbreak.

Netflix usage, in particular, has seen a major increase over the past few weeks and general daytime Internet traffic on Cool Ideas’ network has more than doubled.

Cool Ideas co-owner Paul Butschi said the ISP saw a big spike in Netflix usage following the initial announcement of a state of national disaster due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“All other daytime traffic use (6:00 to 17:00) is up around 100%, which is an indication of the number of people now working from home,” Butschi added.

Now read: The risks of working at home during South Africa’s lockdown

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Netflix reduces streaming bitrate in South Africa