Why Netflix Avoided Letting Subscribers Download Content For So Long

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When Netflix first introduced offline viewing, made possible by downloading select shows and films on its platform, Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos apparently didn't believe the feature would make the splash with users that it did. Now, a year later, Sarandos copped to the fact that many others at Netflix felt the same way, which is part of why it took so long for that user-friendly feature to get introduced.

We really dismissed downloading for a long period of time because it represented a very small percentage of the total population. . . . It actually was a development that we dismissed for a long time that really has made a better product across a ton of demographics.

Ted Sarandos added that another big part of Netflix's long-lasting apprehension about making offline viewing available was because the company's biggest bets were on broadband and Wi-Fi. If the developed modern world will always have available Wi-Fi, there previously seemed to be little need for Netflix to develop the function for customers to download shows and films to watch offline. But it's safe to say things are far from ideal in terms of global Wi-Fi, despite big strides being been made in recent years, So, since the option was made available in 2016, lots of people have been downloading shows and films for times when Wi-Fi isn't as reliable or as widespread as Netflix likely believed it would have been.

As far as the primary subscribers utilizing the service, the most frequent downloaders are reportedly Netflix's younger viewers, commuters with bad Wi-Fi access, and subscribers in Latin American and parts of Asia. As Ted Sarandos mentioned during the 45th Annual Global Media and Communications Conference (via Home Media Magazine), the ability to download content has greatly improved Netflix's service for these demographics, and will likely continue to do so, as the service expands its library of what can be accessed offline. Among offerings that will be available to download down the line, Netflix has mentioned it plans to continue its "Choose Your Own Adventure" children's series, and even plans to incorporate versions for an adult audience.

Netflix's stance on downloading is a far cry from what it was saying two years ago, shortly after Amazon announced offline downloading for Amazon Prime Video. In a bizarre public statement, Netflix's former CPO Neil Hunt remarked the reason the service didn't bother with the feature was that Netflix didn't believe users could handle the decision-making process. That's certainly a different story than the one Ted Sarandos told recently, but it's not like it really matters now beyond hindsight, considering everyone ultimately got what they wanted.

Those looking to see what shows and films can be downloaded should check out their Netflix account (opens in new tab). For a list of some shows that may soon be available to stream offline, head on over to CinemaBlend's fall premiere guide and midseason premiere guide which both contain exciting shows coming to Netflix. For a look at some shows that, exciting or not, didn't manage to escape 2017 without getting canceled, pop on over to our cancellation guide.

Mick Joest
Content Producer

Mick likes good television, but also reality television. He grew up on Star Wars, DC, Marvel, and pro wrestling and loves to discuss and dissect most of it. He’s been writing online for over a decade and never dreamed he’d be in the position he is today.