BBC iPlayer to cut its video quality to stop viewers overwhelming internet providers

THE BBC will stop fans of its iPlayer streaming service from watching shows in Ultra HD to fight broadband overload on the UK's networks.

Concerns have been raised that the rising use of sites like Netflix and YouTube during Britain's coronavirus lockdown may overwhelm internet service providers.

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The move, confirmed by the BBC on Thursday, makes iPlayer the latest web service to respond to an EU call to stave off internet gridlock as millions work from home.

Facebook and Instagram, as well as video giants Disney, Netflix and YouTube, have taken similar sweeping actions over the past week.

EU industry chief Thierry Breton has urged streaming platforms to free up bandwidth for healthcare and distance learning for thousands of children sent home by closing schools.

While European telecoms operators say their networks have been able to cope with the data traffic rise so far, there are fears of congestion as more and more people work at home.

The BBC will reportedly bring in lesser measures than Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video, Disney+ and YouTube have put in place.

Rather than downgrading the quality of all of its streams, its simply removing the highest-quality option: Ultra HD.

Only a few of its programmes, such as His Dark Materials and Seven Worlds, One Planet, are available in Ultra HD.

"BBC iPlayer makes programmes available at different video quality levels, adapting to the amount of bandwidth available and the device being used – so we will automatically reduce the data used if networks are congested," a spokesperson told The Sun.

"As a precautionary measure, we will no longer make programmes on BBC iPlayer available in Ultra High-Definition.

"We will keep the situation under review and are in contact with the relevant organisations to determine if and when further action might be required."

It's not clear how long the restrictions will last.

The spokesperson told The Sun that Ultra HD would return "when it’s appropriate to do so".

Facebook and Instagram's video quality downgrade is indefinite, while both Netflix and YouTube have said they will cut their picture quality for 30 days.

Disney said it would lower its overall bandwidth utilisation by at least 25 per cent in all of the European countries launching its new streaming service Disney+ this week.

Britain's internet traffic has jumped 20 per cent in recent weeks following a surge in the number of people working from home and avoiding outside activities, according to BT's OpenResearch.

Internet service providers in the UK have insisted they are "ready" to handle extra broadband demand from people at home during the pandemic.

Last week, Andrew Glover, chair of the Internet Services Providers' Association (ISPA), which represents the industry, said: "ISPs are ready to handle any potential extra bandwidth and consistently assess the demands that are being put on their networks."

However, one analyst warned last week that it's possible surging demand for home broadband is already affecting people's web speeds.

"The more people that connect to a network at the same time will inevitably put a strain on it and thus reduce the speed," Paolo Pescatore, of PP Foresight, told The Sun.

"This is akin to a motorway; increasing the number of lanes means more cars. However, the more cars on the road will lead everyone to slow down."

"Telcos clearly need to brace themselves for an explosion of traffic over their networks," he added. "More needs to be done to stabilise the network."


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