For the past few years, Netflix's design team has been hard at work on coming up with an algorithm that would amp up the quality of its streaming programs while lowering the amount of bandwidth data subscribers would have to use.
According to a report from Variety, Netflix started working on changing the algorithm back in 2011 when it realized it was going about the entire process completely wrong. Instead of trying to encode video specifically for the type of bandwidth a subscriber used, the team realized they should be encoding each individual title to best suit that movie or television show's needs.
In the example given, Anne Aaron, Netflix's video algorithms manager, compared My Little Pony to The Avengers. With the original algorithm, the same amount of kilobits would be allocated to both titles because it was based on the subscriber's personal bandwidth, not the actual title being streamed.
With the new algorithm, less kilobits will be used to stream a show like My Little Pony because it simply doesn't need as much data to reproduce it as The Avengers would. The former is not as visually detailed as the latter and as such, doesn't need much to encode.
This has resulted in Netflix re-encoding its entire back library. The company has already begun to slowly roll out the newly encoded titles to see if subscribers notice a difference.
Technical jargon aside, the big question is what does this mean for subscribers? The biggest change is that users will be able to save some of their bandwidth, meaning their internet bills may not be quite as high as they potentially are now. Recent data prove that Netflix now makes up 37 percent of all internet traffic in North America. This new algorithm, Aaron said, could help reduce the amount of data being used to stream titles by about 20 percent altogether.
It may sound like a generous undertaking from the streaming service, but Netflix stands to benefit, too. Last year, Polygon reported that Netflix was paying Comcast a premium fee to vastly improve the quality of streams for subscribers. With this new algorithm, Netflix has essentially lowered the amount of bandwidth it takes to stream a title and that would reflect heavily on just how much it needs to pay providers like Comcast.
That would also explain why Netflix wants to get the encoding process done as quickly as possible. According to the report, the company would like to have 1,000 titles encoded by the holidays and finish encoding its entire library by the end of Q1 2016.
Due to the enormous size of the task at hand, Netflix has started to use Amazon's web services to help make encoding as quick and painless as possible, with most of it being done overnight.
Netflix did not say which titles have already been encoded, but rest easy knowing that within the next couple of months, everything at Netflix will have changed and visually audiences will never be the wiser.