Facebook and Instagram, to reduce network congestion, are lowering their video bitrates in Europe in light of coronavirus.
Facebook, Instagram lower video bitrate in coronavirus strategy
"To help alleviate any potential network congestion, we will temporarily reduce bit rates for videos on Facebook and Instagram in Europe. We are committed to working with our partners to manage any bandwidth constraints during this period of heavy demand, while also ensuring people are able to remain connected using Facebook apps and services during the COVID-19 pandemic," a Facebook representative told tech site Engadget.
The Facebook representative touches on the main motivation behind lowering video bitrate: COVID-19. The disease is causing businesses and schools to send employees and students home. With little else to do and social distancing as the worldwide mandate, citizens are turning to online services, games, video chat apps, and other online entertainment for distraction.
With most of the world at home on the internet, internet traffic is bound to cause data and bandwidth congestion. The higher congestion leads to a decline in playback performance. To maintain something of a sufficient viewing experience for European citizens, Facebook is resorting to this measure. The company hopes it will help offset the internet traffic congestion problem.
What is video bitrate?
Video bitrate refers to the rate (bits per second, or bit/s) of video playback. The rate at which a video plays involves refresh rate. Refresh rate refers to the number of times on-screen content refreshes within each minute. Refresh rates are increasing from 60Hz to 90Hz and 120Hz on mobile devices currently. PCs and laptops provide higher refresh rates.
An increase in refresh rate brings an increase in video bitrate. To accommodate rising refresh rates, video bitrates must also rise. Regardless of refresh rate, without video bitrate, videos still don't provide the quality experience video watchers expect.
Alongside refresh rate and video bitrate comes screen resolution. Resolution refers to on-screen image quality. Higher screen resolutions mandate higher video bitrate. Quad HD+ or 4K content demands higher video bitrate than HD (720p) content. Higher screen resolutions demand higher refresh rates as well. Quality content without sufficient bitrate and refresh rate bring video lag and blurry viewing.
Facebook and Instagram follow other tech giants in Europe
Facebook and Instagram are following other tech giants in Europe. Already, Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime are committing themselves to decrease standard video resolution. Google video company YouTube is decreasing its standard resolution from 720p to 480p.
These companies are resorting to a short-term solution to a long-term problem. User numbers are unprecedented due to the sheer number of citizens that are now at home. Millions of users who normally are at work during the day are now home.
As a result, decreasing video playback performance is an easy way in the here and now to offset the massive rise in internet usage daily. And yet, whether it alleviates congestion or not is a matter of wait and see.
There's no telling how long the COVID-19 battle will remain. Analysts say it could rage for 18 months, with little end in sight in the immediate future. At some point, tech giants must consider other options. However convenient lowering video playback performance may be, it's a slight measure in what will become a global problem.
Perhaps lowering video playback factors is helpful. Disabling automatic video ads and video playback on social media sites is another helpful idea. And yet, it may not be enough.