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I recently got an email from my Internet Service Provider alerting me that my unlimited internet usage was soon going to be capped at 200GB per month. Laughable, especially for a family likes ours where the vast majority of our TV consumption comes from Netflix, which I assume generates the bulk of our data usage.

Instead of limiting our daily use of Netflix, I figured that I should probably look into reducing the data used by the app. In this post, we will see how much data Netflix uses and how to reduce the amount of data used by Netflix when streaming. With finer controls over the streaming quality, we should be able to significantly reduce our data usage without limiting our time watching Netflix.

How much data does Netflix use?

Netflix data usage depends a lot on what you are watching, how long you are watching it for, and most importantly, the quality of your internet connection. By default, Netflix will adjust the quality of your stream based on your internet connection, so of course, the higher the quality, the higher the data use. When this default is set, it is hard to estimate how much data Netflix actually uses.

However, when switching from the default auto adjustment to one of the three tiers of streaming quality Netflix offers, we are able to get a better idea of how much data one might use per hour of streaming:

  • Low quality will use about 0.3 GB of data per hour
  • Medium quality (SD) will use about 0.7 GB of data per hour
  • High quality will use about 3 GB of data per hour in HD, and about 7 GB of data per hour for Ultra HD

Assuming you have a decent internet connection and that Netflix delivers HD quality streaming to your device at the rate of 3 GB of data per hour, the savings in data usage can be gigantic simply by switching to SD quality.

Note that this average data usage applies regardless of the device used to stream. Whether you are streaming on your iPhone, Mac, Apple TV, or any other device, the average usage quoted above will apply.

How to adjust Netflix playback settings to use less data

Netflix offers a couple ways to reduce data usage. There is what I’d call a “master switch” that allows you to cap Netflix streaming quality at the profile level, which we will look into right now. There is also a more granular way to reduce data usage for mobile devices at the device level. We’ll look into this later.

To reduce data consumption and put a cap on your Netflix streaming quality at the profile level, follow these instructions:

  1. Log in to your Netflix account using a web browser (not from the Netflix app).
  2. If there are several profiles set under your account (ie. profiles for your kids), choose the profile for which you want to adjust playback settings. This is important because playback settings are set at the profile level, meaning you can have one profile stream in HD, while you have other ones stream in SD.
  3. Once that profile is selected, go to Account, scroll all the way to the bottom, and select Playback settings under My Profile. Note: for some reason, it seems you can’t access a Kid’s account settings directly from a web browser on a computer. Instead, you either have to access the profile from your iPhone browser, or if using a computer, select the Kid profile first, then click on this link from your browser: https://www.netflix.com/YourAccount. You will then be able to access Playback settings, even for a Kid account.
    Netflix playback settings
  4. By default, your playback settings should be set to Auto. In my case, I want to set it to Medium, which should not use more than 0.7 GB of data per hour. Select your playback setting, then click Save.
    Use less data on netflix
  5. Repeat these steps for all profiles under your account, as needed. Note that it will take several hours for the changes to take effect.

Pick and choose streaming quality per profile

Because playback settings are set at the profile level, you can choose the streaming quality of each profile independently of others. For example, you might set your kids’s profiles to stream in Medium quality, while setting your own profile to stream in Auto or High quality. You be the judge.

Playback settings are capped across all devices

When you adjust your playback settings, these new settings will be the same across all devices. For example, let’s say you set your kid’s profile to Medium quality. Your kid’s data usage will then be capped to about 0.7 GB of data per hour regardless of the device used to stream Netflix, whether it is an iPhone, a Fire TV stick, a Chromecast, an iPad, etc…

Less data means lower quality…

In my experience, going from Auto to Medium quality was noticeable on Apple TV, but not in an obvious way. There seems to be minor tiling happening during action scenes, but not to a point where it bothers me. My wife, for example, hasn’t noticed any decrease in quality. Neither did my kids. Your mileage may vary, but just be aware image quality will take a hit when you downgrade playback settings.

How to use less cellular data on Netflix on mobile

Now if you want to reduce cellular data usage on Netflix without adjusting overall playback settings, you can do so directly from the mobile device used to stream Netflix, which in most cases is going to be your iPhone.

  1. On your iPhone, launch the Netflix app.
  2. Tap the hamburger menu in the upper left corner, scroll down and select App Settings.
  3. Select the Cellular Data Usage tab.
  4. By default, the Automatic mode will be selected. Untick the selection, then pick Save Data.
    Use less cellular data on netflix

Choosing this setting will use about 1 GB of data for about 6 hours of streaming.

Regardless of what is set at the device level, data usage will never go over what was set at the profile level, as described above. That means that if you set your kid’s profile to stream in Medium quality, his/her cellular data usage will not go over 0.7 GB of data per hour streamed, regardless of the playback settings selected directly on the mobile device.