NetFlix Bogs Down

Apparently there has been a flurry of complaints about the Netflix streaming video service. Some users have encountered problems just with HD streams, while others have had problems with choppy performance even on SD titles. The company responded with considerable candor in a blog entry last week in which Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer, addressed some of the concerns.

Basically, the company acknowledges that users in different areas may have different experiences with the service due to relative traffic loads and Internet congestion around the individual servers that are spread around the country. And the ISPs have different routing which can result in different performance within the same geographical area. And the end user hardware can also play a role in how efficiently the content is decoded. Netflix is working to incorporate multisource content delivery so that other servers can be used to provide load leveling in areas of higher demand or congestion.

The posting also points out that activities within the home can affect performance. If multiple computers are connected to a broadband service — as is often the case these days in many homes — the actions on one computer can affect performance on another. If someone is uploading a large file on one computer while someone else is trying to use the Netflix streaming service at the same time, then the Netflix performance may be compromised.

One point that the post makes is that Netflix is not throttling the streaming data selectively for some users. According to Hunt, “there is no purposeful discrimination between different clients – we want them all to perform very well.”

We’re in the early days of video delivery over the Internet, and it’s still not clear that the existing infrastructure is capable of handling its success. We have not yet resolved whether or not ISPs should be allowed to modify the data speeds for some users because they make heavy use of the system. And we have not yet reached the point where more people are watching the SuperBowl on their computer than on cable, satellite, or broadcast television. But that day will come eventually. Between now and then, we can expect to encounter some of the growing pains that some Netflix subscribers are experiencing now.