The rise in binge-watching TV, poor internet speeds and potential ‘throttling’ by telcos have been blamed for the increase in dropouts experienced by users of streaming services such as Netflix.
More than one in four Australians – 26 per cent – who stream TV shows and movies have reported “regular” buffering issues and dropouts, according to research by Finder, a price comparison website.
Alex Kidman, technology expert at Finder, said as more Australians sign up to online streaming services such as Netflix and Stan, the congestion problems were likely to become more common.
“The impact of many people streaming at once causes significant strain on the available resources and slows down your internet connection, leading to buffering or dropouts,” he said.
Curtin University’s Dr Mike Kent, a senior lecturer in internet studies, said congestion problems were going to get “worse” before they improve and could persist for the next couple of years.
“Netflix has almost become a victim of its own success,” Dr Kent said.
“The more users they have, the more the streaming quality can be impacted.
“The idea behind the original concept of the NBN [National Broadband Network] was to have the capacity to support all these multiple devices that are now in our households.
“But what we’ve got is a second-rate NBN and it’s a bit of a second-rate solution to these ongoing problems.”
University of Melbourne’s Alexa Scarlata said potential ‘throttling‘ by Australian telco companies could be contributing to the dropouts – meaning intentional slowing or speeding up of internet speeds at certain times of day in response to traffic.
However, the Networked Society Institute research fellow admitted she was not aware of any evidence to support this claim.
“Telcos can potentially slow down services during peak time to avoid outages, but buffering can occur as a result,” she said.
Dr David Glance, director of the University of Western Australia’s Centre for Software Practice, said this could be tested by using a VPN [virtual private network] to see if the performance improved once connected to a different server.
A Netflix Australia spokesman told The New Daily it does not disclose its official subscription numbers.
But the latest Roy Morgan data, released in September, estimated there were now more than 7.6 million Australian Netflix users, after a strong surge in subscriptions.
Viewership of Australian free-to-air TV networks vs. Netflix
How to speed up Netflix this silly season
High traffic days where people have a tendency to binge-watch TV, including fast-approaching Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, carry an increased risk of dropouts.
If Netflix is dropping out on a regular basis, here are some short-term solutions suggested by the experts:
- Check Netflix’s recommendations for the speeds needed to support each streaming package.
- Turn off other devices connected to the internet.
- If congestion has come as a result of the nearest server being overworked, trick the network by using a VPN to access Netflix via a different server.
- Download shows during the morning – outside of peak – to watch at a later time.
- Physically connect the device streaming Netflix to the router using a cable rather than wireless. If using wireless, check there is no interference and place the device in the same room as the router.
- Check the internet speed using Speedtest to ensure the speeds align with what you paid for.
- Dr Marc C-Scott, screen media lecturer at Victoria University, suggested companies provide a simple means for consumers to track the amount of data their Netflix service uses to determine a speed tier to suit their needs.
- Track which telcos are providing the fastest Netflix speeds by viewing Netflix’s monthly data.