Netflix says you can’t handle the complexity of offline video streaming


In a recent interview, Gizmodo asked Neil Hunt, Netflix’s chief product officer, why the company doesn’t offer an offline streaming option similar to what’s included with many competing video platforms (most of which are U.S. exclusive like Amazon Prime Instant Video).

The often-requested ability to view content offline could come in handy for frequent travellers and commuters who don’t always have access to a consistent internet connection. There are a lot of use cases where this type of functionality would be helpful — for instance, Orange is the New Black fans could work through the series’ new season on their daily commute without going through their entire data cap. To avoid this problem you just pre-load the episode the night before. With offline viewing, running into data overage issues after watching one or two episodes of a show on Netflix via mobile, which is very possible in Canada given our often restrictive mobile data caps, is no longer a problem.

According to Hunt, most users either aren’t interested in the feature or simply wouldn’t be able to figure out the process of downloading a video for offline viewing.

“Undoubtedly it adds considerable complexity to your life with Amazon Prime – you have to remember that you want to download this thing. It’s not going to be instant, you have to have the right storage on your device, you have to manage it, and I’m just not sure people are actually that compelled to do that, and that it’s worth providing that level of complexity,” said Hunt in the interview with Gizmodo. 

Netflix also likely doesn’t offer offline viewing because from a business perspective the platform is classified as a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service. Allowing downloads would change Netflix to what is known as an electronic rental platform – iTunes, Cinema Now and Google Play fall into this category – which would then require additional content rights to be sold to Netflix (rights other services probably already own). This means the company would be forced to renegotiate contracts and likely spend significantly more money when securing titles.

However it’s important to point out that there’s nothing stopping Netflix from offering its original content as downloadable for offline viewing. These tiles belong to Netflix and the company can do whatever they want with them.

As a work around, Hunt suggests that the company might eventually explore including its content in in-flight entertainment systems, giving Netflix subscribers an option for offline viewing while traveling.