Netflix, Hotstar, others suspend HD streaming on cellular networks as India goes under 21-day coronavirus lockdown

Saurabh Singh

All video streaming services, ranging from Netflix to Hotstar, have jointly announced that they'll be suspending high-definition (HD) and ultra high-definition (UHD) streaming on cellular networks with immediate effect as India goes under a 21-day lockdown to curb the spread of novel coronavirus. The surprise announcement of a 21-day lockdown was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a televised address to the nation on March 24.

The decision to offer only standard definition (SD) or 480p quality content on cellular networks was made following an e-meeting between Uday Shankar, who is president of The Walt Disney Company Asia Pacific, and chairman of Star India and The Walt Disney Company India, and industry leaders from Google, Facebook, Zee Entertainment, Sony Pictures Networks, Viacom18, Amazon Prime Video, Tiktok, Netflix, MX Player, and Hotstar.

The move to suspend HD/UHD streaming on mobile/cellular is geared towards easing the stress on telecom networks as people are confined to their homes due to the coronavirus lockdown causing an unprecedented surge in data consumption. Note that this impacts streaming videos on mobile/cellular networks only. People will be free to consume content in their preferred quality while on Wi-Fi and broadband networks. Also, for now, the capping in quality over cellular by streaming platforms will apply until April 14 – unless of course, they're made to extend that timeline, depending on how things pan out thereafter.

"The digital industry has decided to act immediately in the larger national and consumer interest and to ensure the robustness of the cellular network. It was unanimously agreed that as an exceptional measure, all companies will immediately adopt measures, including temporarily defaulting HD and ultra-HD streaming to SD content or offering only SD content, at bitrates not higher than 480p on cellular networks," all digital streaming companies said in a joint statement.

The meeting and subsequent decision comes a week after the Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI), a body that represents Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea, urged the telecom department and the home ministry to direct video streaming platforms to ease the stress on telecom networks at a time when more and more people were being asked to stay and work from home invariably resulting in a surge of video consumption. The COAI had also urged to do away with advertisements in order to ease network load – it isn't immediately clear if that's happening too at this point of time.