The battle for the instant watch streaming quality of North America will be fought in the internet arena- the Datadrome.
Netflix has been back in the news lately, and mostly it’s been good notices of the “look at all the awesome shit that’s about to be on streaming” and “look at all the original content” variety. They also made waves with the quiet launch of 3D and “SuperHD” streams of legitimate 1080p content. Unfortunately it’s looking like that last bit of happy news has developed into more of a sticky situation that previously though, and some users are suffering for it.
Now to clarify- the SuperHD/3D update only really applies to people with high end ISP’s like Google Fiber and Cablevision that have beefy pipes to deliver bigger streams (hot). Really it comes down to what ISPs will work with Netflix’s new “Open Connect” service, which is an esoteric tech protocol that essentially cuts out third-party content distribution networks and has internet service providers hooked up more directly to Netflix’s servers. This makes it cheaper and easier to deliver the large amount of data involved with the new SuperHD and 3D services, and means it’s a fairly limited amount of users that will ultimately benefit for the time being.
The real problem comes when an ISP like Time Warner Cable gets its knickers in a twist over working with Open Connect, and ends up fucking users that should be enjoying the upgrades in the process. You see, since Netflix sends the SuperHD content differently (as big data files rather than more compressed streams), it is apparently triggering throttling on some Time Warner Cable customers. It’s essentially a three stooges scenario in which Time Warner sees the big files coming, squeezes the pipe for the user and the Netflix signal gets stuck in the door such that the quality ends up being lower than had the user simply been sent the default quality streams, which the ISP network is used to and lets pass right on through.
To be fair, Time Warner Cable’s issue with Netflix is that they’re essentially guaranteeing themselves preferential access to the pipes through Open Connect, and they argue there’s no need to hook up with that system when their network can handle the data load.
“While they call it Open Connect, Netflix is actually closing off access to some of its content while seeking unprecedented preferential treatment from ISPs,” the spokesperson told Multichannel. “We believe it is wrong for Netflix to withhold any content formats from our subscribers and the subscribers of many other ISPs. Time Warner Cable’s network is more than capable of delivering this content to Netflix subscribers today.”
That said, ISPs are notoriously shitty about open internet standards and desperately scrounging for every bit of control over content throttling they can manage. Considering virtually every other provider has synced up with Open Connect so that users can get the possible signal, it’s hard not to see this as Time Warner being exceptionally stubborn about ceding control of their ability to punish high data usage. Which is to say: fuck them. The fight for an open internet and for “dumb pipes” has been a long (mostly unsuccessful) one, and this does fall far from arena.
Remember that Netflix Instant Watch accounts for about 30% of all internet stuff happening in North America during primetime hours. This is major amounts of data were talking about, along with the quality of the experience that is most in demand.
These two companies need to get their shit together, is what this comes down to.