It seems like the crutch many self-isolators are relying on is collapsing under the pressure. Internet based brands are struggling under the measures put in place — lock downs, shelter-in-place directives and social distancing practices — to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic for a variety of reasons . The most common issue is the strain being put on internet service providers (ISPs) due to increased traffic.
That increase in traffic is exemplified by YouTube’s report that they are not experiencing as many usage peaks due to increased usage across all hours of the day. In an attempt to free up bandwidth for ISPs, internet based companies and services are taking some necessary, although mildly irritating, precautions. While YouTube joins Netflix in reducing the quality of their streams, other companies are still being affected.
What is YouTube Doing? Why are They Doing it?
YouTube is going to be switching all of their videos to a default setting of standard definition, regardless of location and user settings, for the next 30 days. This policy has been in place in the European Union, the UK and Switzerland for a little less than a week, and the global rollout shows that this practice has been effective.
The primary goal driving these streaming quality reductions is to reduce the overall impact on ISPs — and in turn, internet users — during the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the majority of workers and students are transitioning to working/studying from a computer at home, the strain on ISPs can be overwhelming. In an effort to maintain productivity and minimize isolation-induced freakouts, streaming services have to do their part for the greater good of the internet as a whole.
Who Else is Impacted by the COVID-19 Outbreak?
The need for Youtube’s and Netlfix’s efforts to free up bandwidth for ISPs become even more obvious when you look at the how the rest of the internet is fairing at the moment.
If you play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, or are friends with anyone who does, then you are most likely very aware of the strain that ISPs are currently experiencing. The pandemic has resulted in a surge in online gaming which has rendered the massive new game mode, Warzone, virtually unplayable.
Zoom, the online video/teleconferencing app, is being hit particularly hard. Their rating on the Google store plummeted to a 2.0 after a flurry of one star reviews tanked their 4.5 star rating. This was most likely triggered by a combination of ISPs failing to sustain conferences and new users unfamiliar with the app. Regardless, the frustration level was clearly very high. In order to prevent the app being one starred into oblivion, Google started taking action and the app has built back its rating to a comfortable 4.0 stars.
Spotify’s Numbers are Disconcerting
Spotify is also being affected, but not in the ways that you would expect. Rather than dealing with streaming quality issues, the app has seen a decline in streams. When looking at the streams of the app’s Top 200 in Italy from March 3rd to March 17th compared to the Top 200’s streams over the same two week period of last year, you see that the total number has dropped a staggering 23%.
This is not contained to Italy, as the streams of the Top 200 in the US dropped by 14 million when comparing March 17th to March 10th. Dan Kopf of Quartz noted in his report on Spotify’s streams that “it is possible that while top 200 streams are falling, overall listenership could be stable … it may be that less popular, older music is thriving. It’s also conceivable that there are other factors leading to lower streaming—total streams can swing substantially from one week to another.”
My personal theory in regards to this echoes Kopf’s observations, although perhaps slightly more cynically. Maybe the world is not in the mood for what the pop music machine has been giving us when we are struggling through trying times like these. The Top 200 is dominated by tracks like “Highest in the Room” by Travis Scott and “Rockstar” by Post Malone and I think it is fair to say that no one feels like a rock star right now. For new music that offers something different, check out my column the Sunday Sesh.