Offline Streaming: The New Battlefield For VOD Services

September 15, 2015

10:00 pm

Netflix could not have been more clear when it was asked about introducing offline streaming at the end of 2014. “It’s never going to happen” was the definitive response from its director of corporate communications and technology Cliff Edwards.

It was disappointing news to many Netflix customers around the world. Providing the ability to save certain movies or television episodes offline via their app has been a popular, widespread request from users. It would allow people to stream content without the need for a wi-fi connection and without draining mobile internet data. You could watch a classic movie on the train to work, for instance, or spend a lengthy flight binge-watching the latest season of House Of Cards.

Fast forward nine months and Netflix is now under more pressure than ever before to enhance its technology and introduce offline streaming to its customers. In fact, offline streaming has become a very serious battlefield for the two rival sides hoping to reign champion in the video-on-demand war: Amazon Instant Video and Netflix.

This is because Amazon saw Netflix’s weakness and worked to undermine their competitor by introducing it themselves. Amazon now provides offline streaming as part of its Prime service as of September 2015.

More so than original content (Amazon now produces its own having seen the success of Netflix’s) or compatibility with certain devices, offline streaming could be the deciding factor in the closely-fought battle between Amazon and Netflix (it was revealed that former had 40 million subscribers in July 2015 while Netflix had accumulated 65 million). It has been suggested that Netflix’s subscribers may migrate to Amazon if they feel offline viewing is that important. It is almost certainly going to increase Amazon’s already growing membership.

Amazon has proven that it’s not impossible to introduce offline streaming. Even smaller VOD platforms like the United Kingdom’s BBC iPlayer and All 4 allow it. So why does Netflix continue to reject offline capabilities? The original reasoning behind the aforementioned “it’s never going to happen” comment was that Netflix believed offline streaming wouldn’t be necessary in the future. Netflix predicted that fast wi-fi access in the majority of major public places would soon be available and make the function redundant. However, this has not taken place and still appears to be a long way off. As anyone in a rural area will be able tell you, even getting semi-decent wi-fi speed is some sort of blessing. And let’s not start with mobile internet.

Since even more pressure has been placed on Netflix to introduce offline viewing, the company has stated that the issue is something else entirely: functionality. Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt reminded Gizmodo UK at the IFA trade show in Berlin that Amazon’s offline streaming isn’t instantaneous. It involves creating room on your device – which can require a lot of memory – and waiting for the content to save. He believes users will quickly realize offline streaming isn’t as good in practice as everyone had expected in theory.

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

Photo by Shardayyy/Flickr


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Daniel Sarath is a writer who has contributed to Yahoo, Lifehack and many more. He also writes for the technology website Number Direct where he regularly discusses the latest innovations, covers the biggest breaking news and shares his predictions for the future.

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