Netflix Using A.I. to Stream Shows Faster

Netflix’s new Dynamic Optimizer system will use algorithms powered by artificial intelligence to compress video streaming, maintaining higher video quality on slower internet connections.

This new system was developed as a collaboration between Netflix, the University of Nantes, and the University of Southern California. Volunteers were shown thousands upon thousands of different still images from films and TV shows and asked to identify the quality of each of the shots. These results were then used to train the AI algorithm to detect the quality of images.

Usually, videos are compressed with no regard to the content on screen, resulting in pixelation with a slower connection. However, given the AI’s ability to recognize screen quality, bandwidth can be concentrated where it’s needed. A big action scene with lots of explosions and movement would receive more bandwidth than a simple cartoon, optimizing a stream “scene by scene, with an almost infinite matrix of possibilities,” according to Ioannis Katsavounidis, a senior research scientist on the project. Overall, the quality improves dramatically on slow connections.

Todd Yellin, VP of Innovation at Netflix, introduced the new technology, which will be implemented in the next “couple of months,” during the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona. “We’re allergic to rebuffering,” Yellin said. “No one wants to be interrupted in the middle of Bojack Horseman or Stranger Things.”

Yellin discussed how the system would help Netflix customers in India, Japan, and South Korea who watch Netflix more often on their smartphones and other mobile devices more than computers and televisions, thus using up precious mobile data.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings expanded on this in his keynote speech. Along with discussing how in 50 years time, Netflix might be entertaining AIs, the new compression algorithm they have now would free up capacity on mobile networks, ensuring a solid relationship with Netflix.

Hastings said on stage that he watched the recent Netflix original drama The Crown on his mobile device: “It was incredible… when I told the writer Peter Morgan about that, he was aghast.”


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