YouTube is a snitch.
The service is now telling users whose videos were interrupted mid-stream that the blame lies with Internet service providers, not with little ol’ YouTube. The technological tattling comes from reports that compare the average performance of ISPs in someone’s area to the performance of a specific company, much like reports published by Netflix. And like those reports, they are probably meant to shift dissatisfaction from YouTube to Internet companies.
Netflix experimented with similar notifications earlier this year, but the company suspended the practice after receiving a cease-and-desist from Verizon, which claimed that the warnings couldn’t be blamed entirely on its service. The company said in a blog post that these messages were part of its efforts to be transparent about how its videos are delivered to consumers and contested ISPs’ claims that it is at least partly responsible for sub-optimal streaming quality:
Some broadband providers argue that our actions, and not theirs, are causing a degraded Netflix experience. Netflix does not purposely select congested routes. We pay some of the world’s largest transit networks to deliver Netflix video right to the front door of an ISP. Where the problem occurs is at that door — the interconnection point — when the broadband provider hasn’t provided enough capacity to accommodate the traffic their customer requested.
The message is clear: content companies don’t want to pay extra for the infrastructure their services require, and they’re willing to redirect consumer frustration away from themselves and towards ISPs. It’s a bit like Amazon’s attempt to turn its customers into a standing army against publishers, except Netflix and YouTube aren’t deliberately screwing their customers to make their point. (More on Amazon’s underhanded negotiations here, here, and here.)
That isn’t to say that these reports can’t work to an ISP’s advantage. Comcast jumped six positions in Netflix’s ISP report after partnering with the company, proving that these deals can help content companies by improving performance while giving ISPs some free cheerleading. I wrote as much when the report was first released and Netflix revealed that its gambit had paid off:
Those episodes of “Freaks and Geeks” aren’t going to stream themselves, and if Netflix has to make a deal with the devil to get them to your television set, it will. Then, as an added bonus, it will publish new rankings cheerleading the speed bump without disclosing the deal to consumers who don’t spend their time obsessing about the Internet’s future. It’s a win-win.
Except for the Internet, consumers, and small companies that can’t afford to operate in the new paradigm. They’re getting screwed. But hey! At least your Netflix videos will load quicker.
All this tattling isn’t meant to force change that would allow the United States’ Internet infrastructure to catch up with the rest of the world’s. It’s just meant to make ISPs think that consumers will be angry enough with them to consider that change — once that’s done companies like Netflix and Google can form advantageous partnerships and sing the praises of their frenemies. Sure, the Internet’s worse for it, but how else are you going to watch a video of a sneezing panda cub in sweet, sweet high definition without interruption?