Streaming lower quality videos – Can Netflix get away with that?
The recent news about Netflix delivering lower quality videos for its customers on most wireless networks across the globe for more than five years is becoming viral. The Wall Street Journal reported on last Thursday, 24th March that Netflix admitted that it has been doing so to “protect consumers from exceeding mobile data caps” as that may discourage future viewing. Almost all U.S. networks including AT&T and Verizon Communications were part of the list of networks that were used to deliver the lower quality content. Interestingly, Netflix also reported that it did not downgrade videos for T-Mobile US Inc and Sprint Corp users because they had “more consumer friendly policies”.
Even more interestingly, Netflix’s admission came after T-Mobile’s chief executive commented last week that Verizon and AT&T customers were receiving lower-quality Netflix streams. Both Verizon as well as AT & T denied ‘throttling’ Netflix videos. Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, commented – “We’re outraged to learn that Netflix is apparently throttling video for their AT&T customers without their knowledge or consent.” Netflix on the other hand, in a seemingly move to cool down the situation a bit, posted on its official blog last Friday, 25th March that it will be introducing a data saver feature for mobile apps that will allow members more control over their data usage when streaming on mobile networks. The feature is expected to be introduced in May.
It’s not hard to conclude that something is definitely not right with respect to Netflix’ policy of compensating its video quality for the last 5 years. What strikes out even more than the extended time frame of 5 years is the fact that Netflix’ wireless customers were completely oblivious that Netflix was delivering them lower quality videos. The customers came to know of above phenomenon only after Netflix admitted it was doing so on 24th March. Now, the tussle between internet service providers such as AT & T and streaming companies like Netflix is not new. In 2014, a conflict between Netflix and top ISPs surfaced after Netflix began displaying below notification during videos buffering which said that overcrowded Verizon networks are to blame for the slow loading times. Netflix also claimed that the ISPs (i.e. Internet Service Providers) make it harder to watch shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange Is The New Black.”
Responding to Netflix’ claims, Comcast and Verizon accused Netflix of intentionally slowing down its own Internet speed by rerouting traffic.
In the light of ongoing tussle between the ISPs and video streaming companies like Netflix, both the parties need to step back and look into “how” they can work together to provide the best service to their customers. While both the parties can be held accountable for varying degrees for the current situation, the non-disclosure by Netflix to its customers about delivering lower quality content is certainly not acceptable. Whatever the situation may have been, it would have been in the best interest of the Netflix customers to be fully aware of not being delivered the best quality content. Coming days will be interesting to watch as the battle between Netflix and the ISPs may heat-up. Whatever happens, the most important lesson learned for Netflix as well as the ISPs should be to always keep their customers well informed regarding the ‘level of quality’ they are receiving via the given product or service.