Netflix says no to offline downloads, sets sights higher — a mile higher

8 Sep 2015

Netflix is not planning to offer users the option of downloading content for offline use, it has emerged.

Although Amazon Prime recently entered the offline downloads game – the first subscription-based TV service to do so – Netflix will not be following suit.

“I still don’t think it’s a very compelling proposition,” said Neil Hunt, Netflix’s chief product officer, when speaking to Gizmodo UK at IFA 2015 in Berlin.

“I think it’s something that lots of people ask for. We’ll see if it’s something lots of people will use.”

There’s no doubt that the idea of offline downloads is appealing. To be able to watch quality content when and how you want, regardless of whether you are connected to Wi-Fi or not, would be tempting.

According to Hunt, however, the concept is not without flaws. There are myriad reasons why it isn’t the dream scenario it’s cracked up to be – people have to remember they wanted to download something, they have to have enough storage on their computer, and they have to manage what they download.

Furthermore, when it comes to Amazon at least, “a lot of their content isn’t licensed for download, so only some of it is downloadable. You’ll say, ‘I wanna watch this offline,’ and it’ll frustrate when it won’t be available,” said Hunt.

The main reason Netflix won’t be pursuing offline download functionality, though, is the “paradox of choice”.

According to Hunt: “One of the things I’ve learned is that every time you offer a choice, you paralyse some people who can’t decide if that’s what they want to do or not… By adding the choices, you don’t increase the number of people choosing one, but in fact you go the other way. Fewer people choose anything at all.”

So, with Netflix effectively ruling out offline downloads, where will the streaming company be directing its efforts instead?

As well as firming up streaming options, the company is interested in exploring the possibility of dedicated services for public transport systems.

Hunt sees that as the more interesting proposition. “What if we can put Netflix in a rack box that essentially contains all of Netflix content that you could imagine putting in an airplane server, right along with our existing offerings? That, for me, is a more interesting thing: can we make Netflix work on a plane, can we make it work on a train, in hotels?”

I’m all for an expanded Netflix experience, and being able to use Netflix on a plane sounds like a dream. I’ll gladly pass up the opportunity for downloading content if it means we get that instead.

Main image via Shutterstock

Kirsty Tobin was careers editor at Silicon Republic