Streaming services are no longer being asked to reduce their video bitrates in bulk across mobile networks in India. The Cellular Operators Association of India’s Director General Rajan Mathews told MediaNama that streaming services can now figure out restrictions individually with networks. But it is unclear if they will do that. Google and Netflix, for example, have restricted their video quality across all networks in India, including fixed-line broadband connections that have the capacity to deal with the traffic surge. Amazon Prime Video seems to have done the same.
Medianama has reached out to Reliance Jio, Airtel, and Vodafone–Idea to see if they’ll be okay with streaming services rolling restrictions back. We have also asked streaming services if they will roll restrictions back on some networks. YouTube — which has limited video quality to 480p on mobile devices in India — responded saying it had no update to share for the moment; Netflix declined to comment. Brajesh Jain, Vice President of the Internet Service Providers Association of India, which represents several fixed line ISPs, told us that their member ISPs would have no problem with bitrates going back to normal.
The streaming service Hoichoi seems to be among the first to return video quality back to normal. “The bitrates on hoichoi have been returned to normal early this week, with the 1080p option back on track,” a Hoichoi spokesperson told MediaNama. “People can watch their preferred content in full HD. Yes, our telco partners have reached out to us and we have lifted the bitrate restriction.”
In March, when the COVID-19 lockdown started in India, the COAI asked streaming services to limit bitrates to deal with an expected surge in traffic as people stayed home. The telecom secretary himself personally reached out to streaming services to urge them to comply with the request. But Mathews said that the surge was smaller than expected, and so the industry body would not be continuing this demand as a bloc, instead of leaving individual networks to figure out if restrictions should continue for them. It is unclear if these restrictions were even necessary for this long, as the data surge during the pandemic has only been around 15% per Mathews.
But the way streaming services have complied is not unified. Netflix and YouTube uniformly restricted video quality across all ISPs, the latter doing so only on mobile devices. Hotstar, on the other hand, has only limited quality on mobile networks, leading to the hitherto unimaginable situation of their video currently looking a little better than Netflix streams. In Europe, meanwhile, Netflix has been comfortable with a differentiated approach in Europe, where they have started restoring normal bitrates for some ISPs.
Update (June 10): Hoichoi has re-enabled high video quality, and seems to be the first streaming service to do so. We have updated this article with their statement.