After lowering the video quality of its streams across Europe last week, in response to concerns that local networks could become overloaded with video traffic, YouTube has this week confirmed that it will do the same in all regions, with YouTube videos to load in standard definition by default for at least the next month.
As explained by Bloomberg:
"Over the coming days, viewers will at first see YouTube videos in standard definition. Users will still be able to watch in high definition if they want, but will have to choose to do so."
It seems like a relatively minor imposition - especially given that HD will still be an option for those that want it. And it could play an important role in keeping people connected, at a time where everyone who's able to work from home is doing so.
Given the circumstances, maintaining connection is critical. Sure, you might miss the specific detail of the crowd in that basketball highlights video you're watching, but that seems like a small price to pay in order to maintain optimal operation for everyone else.
The use of streaming services has surged in recent weeks as Governments around the world have increasingly urged people to stay indoors to slow the spread of COVID-19. Indeed, according to data from Forbes, subscriptions for Disney+ were up over 300% in the past week, HBO Now subs were up 90% on their regular levels, while Showtime (+78%), Netflix (+47%), and Apple TV+ (+10%) also saw major spikes in take-up.
Entertaining the family within the confines of your home comes with its challenges, and streaming providers offer great alternatives - but they also take-up significant data load, which, at these volumes, could overload networks and lead to service disruptions.
Regulators in Europe have also called on Netflix and Amazon to reduce their network loads, while Facebook announced that it would also reduce the quality of its video streams in Europe, across both Facebook and Instagram, from this week.
Again, it seems a relatively minor concession for the greater good, but it's not always so easy to communicate that to a populous that's used to having access to everything on-demand, as they want it. Most people, you'd imagine, won't even notice the switch to default SD, but there will be some who are upset that they can't stream everything in HD - if, indeed, it does come to that and YouTube needs to remove the option entirely as the lockdowns drag on.
Right now, however, HD is still an option, you'll just have to manually select it. Or, leave it, and play a small part in helping to ensure that our networks stay up for everybody else.