The Tech News Blog

July 12, 2014

Verizon: Don’t Blame Us for Netflix Buffering

Nefflix Logo Is your Netflix buffering? Don't blame us, says Verizon.

The ISP today penned a blog post in which it explained why it believes some Verizon customers might be experiencing buffering when watching Netflix. The reason? Netflix is delivering its streams using third-party providers with limited capacity, despite a huge growth in streaming activity, according to David Young, vice president for Federal Regulatory Affairs at Verizon.

To get content to Verizon's network, and ultimately Verizon customers, some services like Netflix use third-party networks (Level3, XO, Cogent, Tata) that act like delivery services for Internet streams. According to Verizon, however, Netflix customers are watching so much content that those third-party pipes often get congested at the point (or inter-connection) where the third-party networks hook up with Verizon's network.

In a week-long review of a Los Angeles Verizon (and Netflix) customer's network connection, Young said that engineers found "no congestion anywhere within the Verizon network. There was, however, congestion at the interconnection link to the edge of our network (the border router) used by the transit providers chosen by Netflix to deliver video traffic to Verizon's network."

Young did not place the blame on the third-party networks, but rather on Netflix for trying to cram through too much content.

June 5, 2014

Verizon Threatens to Sue Netflix Over Streaming Alerts

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Verizon has sent Netflix a cease-and-desist letter after the streaming service started displaying warnings that blamed buffering or slowdowns on Verizon's Internet service.

"Netflix's false accusations have the potential to harm the Verizon brand in the marketplace," Randal S. Milch, Verizon's general counsel, wrote in a Thursday letter to Netflix's general counsel, David Hyman.

The note was prompted by a Wednesday article from Quartz, which reported that some Verizon FiOS users, like Vox's Yuri Victor, were seeing warnings from Netflix that said streaming slowdowns were because "The Verizon network is crowded right now."

In the letter, posted online by Re/code, Hyman argued that there is "no basis" for Netflix's assertion that Verizon is responsible for streaming slowdowns.

"As Netflix knows, there are many different factors that can affect traffic on the Internet, including choices by Netflix in how to connect its customers and deliver content to them, interconnection between multiple networks, and consumer in-home issues such as in-home wiring, Wi-Fi, and devices settings and capabilities," Hyman wrote.

April 22, 2014

Netflix Mulls Price Hike for New Customers

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Netflix used its quarterly letter to shareholders to announce an impending price hike, and voice its opposition to the merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast.

The company said that its streaming service will likely see "a one or two dollar increase, depending on the country, later this quarter for new members only."

Existing members will be grandfathered into the existing monthly fee ($7.99 in the U.S.) for "a generous time period," according to Netflix, which stressed that its service has not seen a price hike since 2010 despite a sizeable boost to available content. "These changes will enable us to acquire more content and deliver an even better streaming experience," Netflix said today.

Rival Amazon announced a similar price increase recently, upping the cost of Amazon Prime (and the accompanying Amazon Prime Instant video) from $79 per year to $99.

Overall, Amazon's streaming service in the U.S. gained 2.25 million customers during the quarter, landing at 35.7 million. International markets saw a 1.75 million jump to 12.7 million.

April 8, 2014

Amazon Tops Hulu, Apple; Still Behind Netflix, YouTube

Amazon Instant Video iPad App

Amazon now streams more video than Hulu and Apple, but is still lagging behind rivals Netflix and YouTube, according to new data from online video delivery firm Qwilt.

Over the last 12 months, user consumption of Amazon Prime Instant Video content increased 94 percent, allowing the company to move from fifth to third place in the streaming video space.

The news comes after Amazon last week introduced Fire TV, a streaming media hub that will compete with the Roku, Apple TV, and Google Chromecast. Fire TV is essentially a small box that plugs into your HDTV and offers streaming access to Prime Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, and Showtime, among others.

"In some U.S. operator networks, between March 2013 and March 2014, Amazon's streaming video traffic increase was nearly 300 percent," Qwilt wrote in a blog post. "And all this growth happened before they announced Amazon Fire TV."

In a statement, Amazon's vice president of Digital Video and Music, Bill Carr, said the company has invested "hundreds of millions of dollars" to build up its Prime Instant Video catalog of TV shows and movies. Amazon just last week greenlit six new original series, re-upped the comedy Alphas for another season, and nabbed all 192 episodes of the series 24.

April 8, 2014

Netflix Rolling Out 4K Video Streaming

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Netflix is now rolling out 4K streaming on select content, meaning those with ultra high-def TV sets will have a crystal clear view of Frank Underwood's devious plots on House of Cards.

As first reported by Multichannel News, the 4K option is available on the second season of Netflix's popular political drama, as well as certain nature documentaries, but "we will expand the available titles over time," a Netflix spokesman said today.

"The first TVs from major manufacturers that can stream Netflix in Ultra HD 4K are now hitting store shelves," he said. "Streaming in Ultra HD 4K will simply work after you plug in the TV and connect it to a strong broadband connection, it is part of your Netflix subscription."

Customers will need a 4K TV that has built-in HEVC (H.265), which allows for bandwidth-intensive 4K streams to arrive on your set without lag. That's one of the biggest concerns regarding 4K streaming on Netflix - will it totally hose your network? In speaking with PCMag last year, a Netflix spokesman estimated that 4K streaming would consume about 12 and 15 Mbps using the H.265 video codec. "But it's still early days, so we'll see," he said at the time.

December 31, 2013

Netflix Testing New Monthly Streaming Options

Nefflix LogoNetflix is testing two new streaming options to help fill in the gaps between its current viewing plans.

Some new members are being greeted with the option (see below) to spend $7 per month for single-screen access, or $10 each month to share content among three screens—be it a TV, smartphone, or tablet.

"At Netflix we continuously test new things. Not everyone will see this and we may not ever offer it generally," a spokesman told PCMag in an email.

Current subscribers must stick to the two-screen ($8/month) or four-screen ($12/month) arrangements.

Those prices have been in place for more than two years, since the company split its DVD-by-mail and streaming services and began charging $7.99 per month for each, or $15.98 for the package deal. Previously, the unlimited-streaming-plus-one-DVD-at-a-time plan cost $9.99 per month.

Unsurprisingly, the price hike took its toll as 800,000 angry customers dropped their service in 2011.

The backlash has since dissipated and the service regained its good standing, streaming about 5 billion hours of content during the third quarter of 2013.

November 11, 2013

Netflix, YouTube Dominate North American Internet Traffic

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Netflix continues to dominate downstream traffic in North America, a phenomenon that - together with YouTube - has contributed to a significant drop in peer-to-peer traffic over the past few years.

According to a new Internet traffic report from Sandvine, Netflix was the top downstream application in North America in the second half of the year, making up 31.6 percent of traffic on fixed networks. YouTube came in at 18.6 percent, meaning that together they accounted for more than 50 percent of that downstream traffic.

Sandvine noted that Netflix's share of traffic decreased slightly from its study earlier this year. But Sandvine warned that this "should not be interpreted as a decline in the dominance of the service at the expense of their competitors."

"In fact, the bulk of data collection for this report occurred before Netflix made SuperHD content available to all subscribers, regardless of the service provider," Sandvine said. "Based on initial findings from customers, we expect Netflix share to return to or even surpass its previous heights."

During a recent earnings call, Netflix revealed that customers streamed about 5 billion hours of content during the third quarter, up from 4 billion in April.

YouTube traffic, meanwhile, was up about 9 percent from the first half of the year. Sandvine suggested this was due to increased use of smartphones and tablets on home Wi-Fi networks.

Rivals like Amazon Video and Hulu were far behind with 1.61 and 1.29 percent of downstream traffic, respectively.

Interestingly, Sandvine suggested that YouTube will need to boost its servers if it wants to truly compete with the likes of Netflix. Sandvine noted two "pronounced dips" in YouTube quality on a typical day: during the evenings and during the lunch hour.

October 21, 2013

Orange is the New Black Helps Netflix Top 40M Members

Netflix Original Orange Is The New Black

The positive buzz surrounding Orange Is the New Black, as well as 14 Emmy nominations helped Netflix top 40 million customers during the third quarter.

Netflix now has 31.09 million U.S. streaming members, up from just shy of 30 million during the last quarter. The firm also has more than 9 million international streaming customers, up from 8 million just a quarter ago.

Helping boost those numbers was Orange Is the New Black, another one of the company's original series.

"Orange Is the New Black has been a tremendous success for us. It will end the year as our most watched original series ever and, as with each of our other previously launched originals, enjoys an audience comparable with successful shows on cable and broadcast TV," Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and CFO David Wells wrote in a letter to shareholders.

Earlier this month, there was a report that Netflix was talking with cable providers about possibly adding Netflix streaming to set-top boxes like another on-demand channel. It has secured such a deal with Virgin Media overseas, but has not yet inked anything with U.S. cable companies.

October 14, 2013

Cable Deals Could Bring Netflix to Set-Top Boxes

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Netflix is reportedly in talks with cable companies to provide quick access to the company's streaming service via cable set-top boxes.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Netflix is discussing the option with firms like Comcast and Suddenlink Communications. If it goes through, cable customers could access content from Netflix from their TVs much like they would access TV shows and movies on demand.

Last month, Netflix signed an agreement with Virgin Media to bring Netflix onto a pay-TV platform for the first time. Using the Netflix app, Virgin Media TiVo customers can watch streaming content through their set-top box.

Netflix declined to comment on the report.

If Netflix did secure a deal with U.S. ISPs, it would mean cable customers would not need a smart TV or DVD player or a separate gadget - like Apple TV, Roku, or Chromecast - to access Netflix streaming content.

According to the Journal, a deal between Netflix and U.S. cable firms would require those firms to sign on the company's Open Connect program. Netflix launched Open Connect in June 2012, and it serves as the video provider's very own content delivery system.

April 23, 2013

House of Cards’ Gamble Pays Off for Netflix

Nefflix LogoThe success of House of Cards helped Netflix add 3 million streaming customers during the quarter, and has emboldened the company to pursue more original programming.

Netflix also said it will introduce a new subscription option that will allow for four simultaneous streams at once, and roll out a personalized profile feature.

During the first quarter, Netflix added 2 million U.S. streaming members for a total of 29 million, according to a Monday note to shareholders from CEO Reed Hastings and CFO David Wells. The DVD business continues to shrink and now stands at 8 million. International streaming membership grew by more than 1 million to 7.1 million, and collectively, users watched more than 4 billion hours of movies and TV shows.

Netflix said it plans to launch in a new European market in the second half of 2013, and promised more details during its July earnings call.

Back at CES, Netflix said it was testing out personalized profiles, which let each member of a household manage their own viewing and receive customized recommendations based on their viewing habits. At the time, Netflix said it did not know if the feature would ever be released, but the company announced today that "we expect to roll out profiles globally in the coming months."

Meanwhile, Netflix said it will add a 4-stream plan for $11.99 per month in the U.S. "shortly." At this point, only two people can watch separate streams per account, but the 4-stream option will allow for up to four simultaneous streams on one account. Netflix, however, expects that fewer than 1 percent of its customers will take advantage of the feature.

Netflix touted its content deals during the quarter, including those with Turner Broadcasting and Warner Bros. TV group. The Warner deal, in particular, "illustrates our evolution to a curator of select programming," Netflix said, meaning the service will ditch programming that is not popular with viewers, much like a network.