Netflix today announced a feature many users have wanted for years—the ability to download videos and watch them later, without an Internet connection.
“Netflix members worldwide can now download in addition to stream great series and films at no extra cost,” the company’s announcement said. “While many members enjoy watching Netflix at home, we’ve often heard they also want to continue their Stranger Things binge while on airplanes and other places where Internet is expensive or limited.” Downloads are available for all pricing plans.
The feature is available in the new versions of Netflix’s apps for iOS and Android devices. Not every show or movie is available for download, likely due to restrictions in programming contracts. Netflix says the download feature is available for “select TV shows and movies.” Besides Stranger Things, the Netflix announcement said that Orange Is the New Black, Narcos, and The Crown are available for download now. These four have something in common: they are all produced by Netflix.
Titles that can be viewed offline have a download icon, and customers can also browse downloadable shows and movies in a new “Available for Download” section. Once downloaded, customers can watch the videos with or without an Internet connection from the “My Downloads” section.
As with streaming, customers can select different video qualities that use more or less data. Downloading shows will use about the same amount of data as streaming, but the ability to store video could help customers better manage their data usage by downloading shows on home Wi-Fi networks to avoid using cellular data.
Downloading won’t help customers stay under a home Internet data cap, unless they intend to watch something more than once. But this feature could be great news for customers in rural areas who are stuck on subpar Internet connections. If you have unreliable, slow DSL service, it might be a good idea to download some shows when you’re not making heavy use of the Internet and watch them later without any buffering.
Satellite users often have very restrictive monthly data caps but are given unlimited data for a few hours in the middle of the night. We could see a Netflix user downloading shows during those hours when the connection is unmetered, but Netflix’s new download feature isn’t completely ideal for that scenario. Netflix did not mention any plans for scheduling downloads or bringing downloads to devices besides iPhones, iPads, and Android phones and tablets. A startup called Aterlo Networks we wrote about last year solves that problem by letting customers schedule recordings for the middle of the night and cache them locally so they can be viewed on any device connected to a home Wi-Fi network.
Netflix executives have previously denied any plans to make video available offline, even saying in 2014 that offline video watching is “never going to happen.” Adding downloads helps Netflix match a feature already offered by Amazon’s streaming video service.
Downloads and offline viewing would have been quite useful for many Netflix customers a couple of years ago when the company was battling Comcast and other large ISPs over whether it should have to pay for direct network connections to improve quality. Netflix had widespread quality problems at that time, and it still highlights the differences in quality among ISPs by publishing average speeds on its ISP Speed Index.
Netflix has been an outspoken opponent of home Internet data caps, recently asking the Federal Communications Commission to declare the caps “unreasonable.”
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