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The telcos have called on the video streaming service providers to temporarily migrate from HD (hi-definition) to SD (standard definition) streaming, and even dispense with heavy bandwidth-consuming advertisements and pop-ups to ease network load. They said this would enable video streaming platforms to continue suitable level of service but at appropriate bit-rates, easing pressure on networks.
“We’ve written to DoT (Department of Telecommunications) and the home ministry that it’s absolutely essential for the video streaming service providers/broadcasters to cooperate with phone companies and manage their traffic distribution patterns to ensure they don’t strain telco network infrastructure,”, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), told ET.
The COAI represents Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea.
This exercise, he said, is crucial as telecoms infrastructure is needed for various critical needs, including online/digital education, digital payments/transactions and online healthcare amid various government advisories calling on people to operate from home to check the spread of the pandemic.
The COAI has urged DoT and the home ministry to press the likes of Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, Hotstar, ZEE5, AltBalaji, Voot, SonyLiv, Hoichoi, SunNXT, amongst others, to cut streaming loads on telco networks. This, it said, is due to a sudden surge in digital use with many working from home.
The COAI, in a letter to DoT, said it has written to the streaming platforms to undertake technical measures to ease pressure on TSP infrastructure, “but this would be more effective if a similar communication is sent from DoT to these companies offering streaming video services.” ET has seen a copy of the letter.
Mathews said COAI also pointed out to in its letters that similar measures had been taken by various streaming platforms in the US and Europe as more and more countries clamp lockdowns to combat.
Majority of video streaming service providers, including Netflix, MX Player, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar, Voot and ZEE5 said that they have already started taking steps aimed at using less internet capacity without compromising on quality of streaming.
Vivek Jain, COO, MX Player, a video streaming service provider owned by Times Internet, said the company has stepped up efforts to provide the best customer experience while conserving bandwidth amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
“We have launched multiple features, including data saver mode, HEVC codec capability on 92% devices in India via software and a proprietary advanced compression technique that leverages cutting edge AI and object recognition…these advancements will reduce MX bandwidth consumption by over 70%,” he told ET.
Netflix had deployed Open Connect, a content delivery network that uses open source software to tackle the problem. As per Netflix, open connect enables it to store content library – or cache as it’s called – closer to the end user…that way, it can deliver content faster and at better quality, while using less internet capacity.
A Prime Video spokesperson said that Amazon supports the need for careful management of telecom services to ensure they can handle the increased internet demand with so many people now at home full-time due to Covid-19. “Amazon Prime Video is working with local authorities, mobile service providers and internet service providers where needed to help mitigate any network congestion, including in India where we’ve already begun the effort to reduce streaming bitrates whilst maintaining a quality streaming experience for our customers.”
ZEE5 has also initiated measures to restrict the streams being delivered on any device at the player level, which will ensure the existing bandwidth is not overstretched, said Tarun Katial, CEO, ZEE5 India.
“Since inception, we have been closely working with some of the world’s finest deep tech start-ups to serve quality content even in a slow 3G network area. Given the current scenario where the internet consumption is at an all-time high due to COVID-19 and self-isolation, we will continue to serve quality entertainment at the most appropriate and minimal bitrate required,” Katial said.
Viacom18-owned Voot has also begun streaming in SD across its user base to ensure a seamless and cost efficient solution for users, which is efficient for the overall infrastructure, Gourav Rakshit, COO, Viacom18 Digital Ventures said. “We have seen a significant lift in consumption over the past week, and are glad to see the directives issued by DoT and COAI oriented to minimising the data serving burden on our consumers and infrastructure.”
A Hotstar spokesperson said that the service is built for India and its mobile first and cost-conscious consumers. “We have always aimed to deploy the most efficient and best in class video encoding technology. Our video streaming is based on Adaptive Bitrate Streaming, which ensures that we are lean in internet consumption.”
The spokesperson added that Hotstar optimises encoding on the basis of the type of content complexity (entertainment versus live sports) and also extensively measure the most common bit-rates that customers can stream at in order to be lean on data.
Hotstar also does not provide HD content on ad-supported free service. “We are mindful of this extraordinary situation and are closely monitoring it. In the larger consumer and national interest, we are geared to dynamically make changes and are prepared to reduce the bitrate for our HD streams, should the need arise,” the spokesperson said.