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Netflix Kills Notion of Offline Playback; Says it Will “Never Happen”

Netflix Kills Notion of Offline Playback; Says it Will “Never Happen”

by Clay Michael GillespieDecember 18, 2014

Three years ago, Lenovo unveiled their IdeaPad K1 technology that was supposed to shake up the way people use Netflix. One of the major caveats to the IdeaPad was that Netflix was reportedly going to be able to stream natively on the device, boiling down to one major selling point: Offline Playback.

Various news outlets covered the possibility of Netflix offline playback, and Engadget writer Peter Rojas even wrote an op-ed to Netflix and Hulu about caching programming for offline viewing.

I know I can’t be the only one out there who’d love to be able to load up my phone or tablet with a few hours of movies and shows before getting on airplane, or just to be able to watch something while I’m out of the house without having to worry about chewing up my battery by pulling down all that data over 4G.

Rojas made a strong business argument for enabling offline playback too, noting that Spotify and Rhapsody both allow for offline caching; a major reason so many people sign up for their monthly subscriptions.

Unfortunately, that was two years ago. Over all this time, all users have been able to hope for is the chance that Netflix or Hulu roll out the option to subscribers. Until Netflix came out and shot down the idea once and for all, leaving no wiggle room for speculation.

Netflix Not Chasing the Offline Caching Demand

Netflix Offline Playback HackedCliff Edwards, the director of corporate communications and technology at Netflix, recently talked to TechRadar about the prospects of offline playback and caching. To put it bluntly, TechRadar reported he said the following:

It’s never going to happen.

He also said that five years from now he doesn’t believe anyone will be talking about offline playback, noting that he thinks it’s a “short term fix for a bigger problem.”

This instance isn’t the first time Netflix pushed away the idea off offline playback, though it is the most direct and succinct. During 2012, in another interview with TechRadar, Netflix cloud architect Adrian Cockroft said that while there are some user cases where streaming isn’t best used, it’s a small portion of the market that Netflix doesn’t believe would be beneficial to pursue.

Another Argument for Netflix Offline Playback

To be fair, Netflix does have their plate full, and their business plan set. They’ve become the face of the movement for net neutrality and are cranking out new seasons of shows left and right. With Google working to bring internet access all over the world, the overall digital landscape looks good for Netflix outside of the United States. They’re right; there simply isn’t much demand for an offline playback service.

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However, the argument for its use could come sooner rather than later for Netflix. At Comcast, the opposition leader of net neutrality, their service XFINITY announced that they would begin rolling out plans to charge for data usage on home internet similarly to the way cell phone companies charge for data.

The glaring question, of course, is why? Comcast is quite vilified in the consumer eye and media as it is; why would they decide it would be a good idea to roll out this service? Well, don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

“As the marketplace and technology change, we do too. We evaluate customer data usage, and a variety of other factors, and make adjustments accordingly. Over the last several years, we have periodically reviewed various plans, and recently we have been analyzing the market and our process through various data usage plan trials.”

So they give no real reason under their frequently asked questions category, but it’s easy to tell that this plan would be most beneficial to their company financially.

What does this have to do with Netflix? Well, if I’m paying to use my home Wi-Fi to stream House of Cards in the future, I’m not going to want to pay $1 per GB I use for the service. If I could download it onto my device though, I would be able to live with not giving Comcast a single dime more than the cost it took to cache the file.

Netflix may say that they’ll never offer offline playback, but they should keep the idea in the back of their minds. Especially when they have a chance to seriously financially injure the company trying to put them out of business.

Images from Netflix and Shutterstock.

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  • Paul Madore

    If the major cable companies start to do this in markets where they have monopolies, we can only hope that the settlements will put them out of business and make room for honest competition. Personally, I’m fortunate to use a smaller cable company that gives us a really good deal and great service.

  • one who knows

    uh.. yeah.. I get offline play with amazon just fine.. and their selection, content is getting so much better, I find myself there more and on Netflix less.. the only reason we still have Netflix is so the kids can watch the same cartoon 300 times.. not much else..

  • RJF

    “It’s never going to happen.” Right, never, is it even possible to count the number of times we have heard that six months prior to it happening? I predict it will happen and within a year just because he said “never” Netflix is on the way out, better services exist…