Why the State would like Netflix to reduce the quality of its videos in France

Arcom has drawn up its list of recommendations for streaming platforms like Netflix, Prime Video and YouTube. At the top of the list: reducing image quality and an “eco” mode to offer users.

Streaming consumes. You know this if you watch videos on YouTube or even Netflix from your limited data plan, and operators know it even more when their customers consume several hours of streaming content per day. If access providers have already tried in the past to make streaming platforms pay, this time the situation has changed: the environmental impact of all these digital players is in the crosshairs of regulatory authorities, here ‘Arcom (Regulatory Authority for Audiovisual and Digital Communication).

The latter, within the framework of the law on the digital environmental footprint, has drawn up a list of recommendations so that streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, Canal+ and Prime Video can reduce their impact on the environment. On the agenda of these good practices recommended by the authority: greater education of users about their consumption and a reduction in image quality.

An “ecological” quality setting on the platforms?

Arcom was keen to point out in its report (via L’informé) that the video represents no less than “66% of global internet traffic in 2022» and therefore weighs in the digital carbon footprint, which in France represents around 2.5% of the total footprint. If urgency does not prevail, these figures are expected to triple by 2050 with ever more popular use of these platforms.

It must be said that the offer is now technically advanced: 4K is now becoming more popular in subscription packages, as well as HDR with the Dolby Vision and HDR10 standards. All these developments have their weight on the bandwidth used by Internet users. In its recommendations, Arcom encourages platforms to educate their users on the ecological impact of their video consumption.

Many of them already tell you the bandwidth consumed per hour depending on the quality mode chosen, without raising awareness of the carbon footprint of each of these options. Only myCANAL can boast of displaying such a message when setting the definition. Arcom also encourages all streaming players to work together to find “ a common methodology for calculating the environmental impact of audiovisual uses linked to the use of their services in 2024“.

And like the “Battery saver” option on smartphones, streaming players could, according to Arcom, offer one or more environmentally friendly settings. More than just a reduction in quality, it would also disable the automatic playback of subsequent episodes, but also the automatic playback of video when the user browses the home page. All these options, already offered by the platforms, should be grouped under a single setting that can be activated in two clicks.

Less demanding video codecs

The other recommended measure unsurprisingly concerns the optimization of this image quality with the aim of consuming as little as possible. The platforms had already been forced during confinement to reduce their bit rate (bit rate) to preserve the bandwidth of an entire population now under home confinement. Here, the argument is this time ecological, with work on less demanding audio and video codecs as an avenue for reflection.

On this point, the platforms offer their own infrastructure and compression techniques, but some have agreed on the AV1 codec, like Netflix or YouTube. The latter makes it possible to considerably reduce the bandwidth used for a quality at least equal to and sometimes superior to traditional codecs.

It remains to be seen whether the various audiovisual players targeted will promise to adopt these measures to satisfy Arcom. While the trend among all tech and digital giants isgreenwashing, many have already started this type of initiative to reassure the public, but also the regulatory authorities. But there is a fine line between marketing campaign and compliance. In France, they will in any case be asked to report annually on their actions with a first assessment planned in two years. But without regulations to force them to do so, we will therefore have to rely on their good will.

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