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‘Netflix to Cut European Traffic by 25% Due to Coronavirus’

Netflix said on Thursday it would reduce its bit rates across all its streams in Europe, in effect cutting traffic on its European networks by 25% to preserve the smooth functioning of the internet during the coronavirus crisis.

The move came after talks between European Union industry chief Thierry Breton and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Breton had a day earlier urged the video streaming service to downgrade the quality of its video to avoid internet gridlock.

Pure PR, I suspect. I’m sure overall internet traffic has increased recently, but I doubt peak traffic has by much. And of all the services least likely to suffer due to overloaded networks, it’s Netflix. They frequently stress test their services and are directly connected to basically every internet exchange (IX) worldwide thanks to their Open Connect programme. This is just helping hand syndrome. Netflix wants to appear like it is ‘doing its part’.

I just went on Netflix and it’s not currently throttled. I’m being delivered full-fat 1080p streams. So either it’s not in place yet or they’re just getting rid of 4K.

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Technology

Amazon Prime Video

There’s a nice little article by Alex Sherman at CNBC on Amazon Prime Video, beginning with this interesting rumour as to why the Lord of the Rings TV show rights went to Prime Video:

But money alone wasn’t going to separate Amazon from the pack — Amazon’s $250 million offer wasn’t even the highest bid for the show’s rights, according to a person familiar with the matter. The ultimate selling point, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations, related to Amazon’s original business from over two decades ago: books. The Tolkien estate was convinced that in promoting the series, Amazon could sell truckloads of Tolkien’s fantasy novels, including “The Hobbit” and “The Silmarillion” as well as “The Lord of the Rings.”

So it looks like maybe part of the deal involves the Amazon homepage pushing Tolkien books as hard as it does its Echos.

Amazon Prime Video is a curious thing. It has some good ideas and potential but somehow it’s just not coming together.

According to the above article Prime Video originally focused on ‘high-minded, potentially award-winning content to lure users into Prime’. Which is true, with rather niche films like The Neon Demon, Paterson, and Manchester by the Sea being funded by them. All of which were good, but not exactly mainstream. They’ve had more luck on the TV side, with Transparent and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel finding more appeal. However the rest of their TV offerings haven’t quite cut the mustard.

And now it seems like Prime Video is changing tactic slightly, realising that what really stops people from not renewing their Prime membership is not a bunch of four-star shows, but a couple of five-star shows that customers can’t live without. They’re doubtless aware there are plenty of people who subscribe to HBO GO just for Game of Thrones. And I think that’s one reason they’ve overpaid for The Grand Tour and Lord of the Rings. They need a hit. I’m sure they’ll continue funding lots of original content and seeing what sticks, à la Netflix. But they’re now aggressively pursuing what they perceive as ’ready-made’ hits, in desperation.

Another thing the article mentioned was Amazon Channels, which is essentially a way for users to get streaming content that isn’t on Prime Video into the service if they’re willing to pay for it. For example, $15/mo gets you HBO and $9/mo gets you Showtime. Now that every television network seems to be making its own streaming service, requiring users to deal with a bunch of different apps and bills, why not put all in one easy centralised place? Amazon Channels is a great idea. But it doesn’t quite work. And a large part is due to, what I think, is Prime Video’s biggest weakness: its UI.

Amazon products aren’t exactly known for their design, with nearly everything they make being ugly. But Prime Video is actively dysfunctional. My Mum can’t use it, whereas she has no issues with Netflix. It also makes the catastrophic mistake of showing non-Prime content that you have to purchase alongside the stuff that you get as part of your subscription. You see a movie that takes your fancy and then you realise once you click on it that you have to rent or purchase it. Truly ludicrous. Amazon needs to separate Prime Video and the Prime Video store. And talking of separating. They separate the above mentioned Amazon Channels, the one thing they shouldn’t. Rather than nicely adding Channel content into the interface, it’s almost treated like an app within an app.

If Amazon offered users Prime at $99 rather than $119, but for that they didn’t get access to Prime Video, how many would go for the cheaper plan? I believe a healthy majority would. Prime Video as it stands today, is a fairly limp, ugly offering.