Netflix’s Network Congestion Message Rolling Out On All ISPs, Not Just Verizon

As some Netflix customers using Verizon as their ISP have recently found out, Netflix has been working on a way to notify consumers when they feel that many clients are experiencing congestion on a certain segment of a certain ISP’s network. Many in the media reported today that select Verizon customers have gotten a message in their Netflix video window saying that “The Verizon network is crowded right now” and that Netflix is “Adjusting video for smoother playback”. While some suggested this new Netflix message is specific to Verizon, it’s not.

These messages are already showing up on multiple networks and is rolling out in a phased deployment. They are not everywhere yet, but will be soon. Netflix has confirmed they will display these messages whether or not they have a direct connection (paid or free) in place with the ISP. Netflix said their goal in doing this is to help their subscribers understand when their experience is degrading based on their network provider (as opposed to their home WiFi, etc). When Netflix feels that many clients are experiencing congestion on a certain segment of a certain ISP’s network, they will display the message for clients who are experiencing degradation.

Of course we don’t how Netflix defines “degradation” or the methodology they are using to determine the threshold of when a message is displayed or not, but they aren’t only doing this to Verizon. Not surprisingly, Verizon isn’t happy with the message and other ISPs won’t be as well because Netflix’s message is very vague. Saying any network is “crowded”, really does not mean much, and it does not say where the congestion is in the network, or who’s responsible for it. I have asked Netflix to release their methodology on what they consider a poor user experience and how they define “degradation” and will update this post if they provide more details. Netflix replied and gave out some details on the methodology.

Updated 6/5: Netflix says their methodology is if you are streaming from an ISP/Designated Market Area pair where (1) the average bitrate is poor (SD), (2) there is high congestion (the ratio between peak and trough traffic is abnormally compressed), and (3) they see a high percentage of sessions with a rebuffer, then the player displays the warning during the initial buffering at play start. If those criteria are met AND the user is actually streaming at a low bitrate (SD or below) then Netflix also displays an indicator if the play control bar is activated during the playback. That’s how it works now, but Netflix may modify/tune as they continue to roll out and learn more.