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Corona Scare: Why are OTT platforms restricting resolution to only SD

The OTT platforms unanimously decided to drop down its content offering on cellular data to standard definition.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that the entire country will remain under lockdown for 21 days to restrict the spread of COVID-19. It means that an individual should not step out of his house, unless it is absolutely essential. Around 10 days back, many organisations had asked their employees to work from home. Schools, colleges and coaching centres are closed. And, with a number of faculties working remotely, cellular data consumption has gone up exponentially, to the level that it could strain the telecom network infrastructure.

Against this backdrop, the Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), which represents Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea, had written to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). In its note, the COAI had urged the DoT and MHA to ask digital video streaming platforms to temporarily cut back their high definition (HD) offerings, and limit to only standard definition (SD).

According to Nokia's Mobile Broadband India Traffic Index report, the average monthly data usage per user surpassed 11 gigabyte (GB) in December 2020, growing by 16 per cent annually. The smartphone manufacturer's report attributes the growth to 4G penetration. As per reports, the number of 4G and 3G data users in the country is estimated to be 598 million and 44 million, respectively. Of the 11 GB data consumption per user per month, close to 75 per cent is due to video streaming. According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), there are 115.1 crore wireless telecom subscribers in India (December 2020).

The likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, ZEE5, Voot, ALTBalaji and others offer live streaming, live television and make ‘Original’ content available in various resolutions, all of which require heavy bandwidth. According to Netflix's estimate, streaming videos in SD consumes around 0.7 GB data per hour, and in HD, the data usage is over 3 GB per hour. Platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime offer 4K resolution, too, which consumes around 7 GB of data per hour.

COAI has notified that cellular data is essential for several important services like video conferencing, online classes, digital payments and online banking, and data transfer. Without these services, the country will come to a standstill in the middle of a global pandemic. As it turns out, the OTT platforms have unanimously announced that they will restrict the resolution to SD, or 480p, to ease the pressure on telecom service provider's infrastructure.

Through a joint media statement, the stakeholders in the digital industry announced, “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 no higher than 480p on cellular networks. These voluntary measures will be in effect until April 14.

Nachiket Pantvaidya
Nachiket Pantvaidya

Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO ALTBalaji and Group COO Balaji Telefilms opines that social isolation and working from home that has resulted in an all-time high internet consumption. "We are constantly working towards reducing the bit rate for our streams and resolving content resolution so that our subscribers during this phase can enjoy our content without buffering. As a call to action, ALTBalaji is asking users (by sending in-app reminders) to move to SD (Standard Definition) from HD (High Definition)," he informs.

In order to optimize the bandwidth, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited decided to temporarily disable the streaming of LIVE TV GEC channels on its digital entertainment platform – ZEE5. It has also ensured that all the High Definition (HD) content offered on ZEE5 will be switched to Standard Definition (SD).

Punit Goenka
Punit Goenka

Punit Goenka, MD & CEO, ZEE Entertainment Enterprises appreciated the steps taken by COAI. However, he believes there are other aspects that need immediate attention. "Infact, we also believe that streaming of objectionable obscene content or pornographic content consumes enough bandwidth and should be curbed during such challenging times across the digital ecosystem," Goenka says.

"Strict action should be taken by the authorities against platforms which are streaming such content which is leading to bandwidth constraints,” he concludes.