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Downloadable Netflix is a Boon For Parents and Original Programming

By  · Published on November 30th, 2016

Also those with bad internet ‐ you know, all of us.

With a press release and a cheeky tweet featuring many of its original series, Netflix announced today the new ability to download some of its content for offline viewing.

An option competitors like Amazon Video and MUBI have offered for a while now, offline access is a blessing that Netflix’s overwhelming audience has begged their streaming overlords provide them. Now, like Furiosa unleashing the water after taking the Citadel in Mad Max: Fury Road, Netflix is opening the flood gates.

It’s not available for every title, but content that can be viewed offline has a download arrow icon and customers can also browse downloadable shows and movies in a new “Available for Download” section on their mobile devices once they update their iOS or Android apps. Once downloaded, customers can watch these shows or movies from the newly added “My Downloads” section regardless of their connectivity to the internet.

The availability has been angled towards original content, as licensing issues become exponentially easier when you already own what you want to distribute, and Netflix’s Eddy Wu explicitly noted access to the shows Orange is The New Black, Narcos and The Crown at today’s launch. By searching “Downloadable” on Netflix, however, you can find a helpful list of the selection ‐ even if you’re using the more traditional website accessed via laptop.

Titles under this search term include the parent-pleasing animations Minions, Home, and Kung Fu Panda 3 — parent-pleasing perhaps not for their artistic value, but for the new ability to download them so your kids can watch them as many times in a row as they’d like without sapping your household’s wireless bandwidth. Get your work done without your obsessive children bogarting the internet. Many Netflix originals (including Stranger Things, The Do-Over, Grace and Frankie, and Black Mirror aside from the ones previously mentioned by Wu) and popular binge-shows are accessible for more adult viewers planning trips abroad or venturing into a cabin to wait out the next four years of Trump.

Breaking Bad, The Office, Mad Men, and Parks & Recreation (and almost every CW show) makes these launch titles seem like they were curated first by their streaming popularity, then by the likelihood viewers wanted to watch back-to-back episodes. Watching how these titles are consumed and their download numbers will likely be reported back to other networks and studios when negotiating for a wider selection of downloadable content in the future.

Getting these rights is a complicated and ongoing negotiation, a Netflix spokesperson told WIRED, which makes sense considering the ratio of original content to curated content available at today’s launch. However, the service’s popularity and quasi-global reach (live in more than 190 countries as of January of 2016) mean that downloadable content is a must if the company wants to leverage its presence in areas of the world without consistent or cheap internet service.

Allowing different levels of video quality that can use less data takes a strain off of audiences in rural areas of the world or those whose internet access is spotty, allowing for overnight downloads instead of the incessant buffering that turns a would-be binge session into an exercise in frustration.

This also shows a shift in company policy towards its audience. Last year, when asked about downloadable content at the launch of Amazon Video’s Prime downloading, Netflix’s Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt responded that he didn’t think Netflix customers could take that level of choice or involvement:

“I still don’t think it’s a very compelling proposition. I think it’s something that lots of people ask for. We’ll see if it’s something lots of people will use. 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.”

The company’s about-face on the issue makes me think that Amazon has had some serious success in that area and that underestimating your audience as drooling addicts of instant gratification can only lead to embarrassment. While this will undoubtedly push more people towards Netflix originals for binging purposes (and building a streaming audience for their future seasons), this new option is a boon for travelers, parents, and those of us whose Wi-Fi drops more than an airlift over Berlin.

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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).