Watch Netflix Offline – A Not Too Distant Reality, and Why the Company Has Succumbed to the Change

August 25th, 2016 - Get new posts sent straight to your inbox, click here. John R

Watch Netflix Offline

Netflix has always been known as a video streaming service, so rumours that the entertainment giant is not only considering but testing a video download option for it's subscribers may come as a surprise. The company has in the past played down any possibility of an offline viewing feature. However, recent reports suggest that this has all changed and the company is planning introducing an offline viewing option for users as early as late 2016 or 2017. If you are a Netflix subscriber, read on to find out more.

Netflix is testing a possible download service

Netflix’s on-demand model has distinguished it's delivery mode from competitors such as Amazon, iTunes, and Comcast. You can access Netflix’s incredible variety of content through a broad range of devices, including computers, game consoles, phones, and tablets, to Blu-ray players and set-top boxes. However, without viewers carrying out certain tweaks (which may or may not be in line with Netflix’s terms of use), there is no way to watch your Netflix movies, TV shows, and documentaries if you are not connected to the Internet.

Netflix’s Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt has in the past described offline viewing as a not ‘very compelling proposition’, and doubted whether lots of people would actually use it even if many requested it. Hunt also suggested that it added complexity for users because it is not instant and requires extra storage space.

Recent reports suggest that Netflix has changed it's mind about offline viewing options for users and has already started testing the technology. The COO of Penthera, a HD media to mobile device software company, was quoted as confirming these rumours, saying that it will happen as early as the end of 2016.

These comments follow remarks made by Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings earlier in the year that the company was considering adding an offline viewing option for subscribers. More recent reports appear to confirm definitively that Netflix has already decided to go ahead with offering the download option.

Possible reasons for Netflix’s change in strategy

Netflix’s change in strategy in deciding to introduce an offline viewing mode could be due to a number of reasons. It's major competitors, which include high-profile brands such as Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Hulu Plus, and Comcast – and in Australia, Stan and Presto – typically do offer a download-and-play-later feature.

Consumer demand for a download option could be another reason. Finally, as Netflix continues to expand it's global footprint, including to countries where Internet services can be patchy, offering a download-to-watch option could help it grow it's subscription base more quickly.

Competitors

Amazon remains one of Netflix’s top competitors, and it's online video service already allows you to play video offline. In early 2016, Amazon introduced Amazon Instant Prime Video, a video-only standalone monthly subscription service that now directly competes in the same category as Netflix’s offering. (Amazon Prime is not available in Australia but could be launching locally at some point.)

Amazon, like Netflix, is now also producing original content. The consumer giant has signed deals with content providers such as Viacom and HBO, and through it's Streaming Partners Program with companies such as CBS, Showtime, Starz, and A+E. It is likely that Amazon’s aggressive strategy in the on-demand video segment has compelled Netflix to review it's own product offerings, including the possibility of an offline viewing option.

Additionally, other competitors such as Google Play and iTunes have also long given the option to download videos and shows for later viewing. Unless it is an outright purchase, the content then expires after a given period of time. As such, it is unlikely that Netflix was constrained by technology, but rather that not offering such an option was for strategic reasons, which are now shifting due to competitor behaviour.

Consumer demand

Another reason for Netflix’s change in strategy could be consumer demand itself. As it's Chief Product Officer has noted in the past, ‘lots of people’ do ask for an offline viewing option.

An AllFlicks survey of more than 1000 Netflix subscribers suggested that the vast majority (73%) of those surveyed would download content if they were able to. Around two-thirds of those surveyed considered the feature important or very important. Subscribers said they would likely use the download option when travelling (especially by air and car), camping, working out, and commuting. For these types of subscribers, the download option would be more than a convenience; it could be a necessity for their lifestyles.

Even if you use the download feature as a stopgap option for emergencies for when you are travelling or do not have a connection, the survey results suggests that consumers could find it a decisive option when they are shopping around for on-demand video subscriptions.

Revenue generation

While Netflix introducing a new offline viewing option appears to be a certainty, the company has yet to provide specifics about how this will be achieved. There is the possibility that Netflix could charge subscribers a modest fee on top of their flat fee that would allow the company to generate extra revenue. Netflix of course is more than just a streaming service; it is also a content creator that produces it's own shows and movies.

The business is planning to spend $5 billion on it's programming this year and double it's production of original, in-house series. Extra revenue would indeed help with it's content-creation strategy. This extra fee could be something like $2 extra per month for the option to download content, and even this nominal fee could generate a significant amount of extra revenue for Netflix, which has more than 81 million subscribers.

Global expansion

Other possible reasons for Netflix’s decision to start offering offline viewing for subscribers could be it's relatively new global strategy, which saw it expand to 130 countries around the world (though China remains an exception). Netflix views itself as a universal Internet-based TV network that will eventually offer the same content for viewers regardless of their location, even if it takes 20 years or longer to achieve.

About the author

John R

John Reisinger

John Reisinger is known as one of the fastest coders in the business. He’s the one at Aussie Broadband dreaming up and developing new products for our customers. Sometimes, you can find him performing with his theatre group at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.