Why Netflix Won't Let You Download For Offline Viewing

When a company is as big and successful as Netflix has been, there aren’t a lot of suggestion to propose to its execs as far as making the service better. Amazon made a huge announcement recently by saying they’re letting Prime subscribers download TV episodes and movies for offline viewing. Will Netflix now feel pressured to follow in those footsteps? Not at all, and it’s basically because the big bosses don’t think that consumers can handle that kind of mental pressure.

At the recent IFA tradeshow in Berlin, Netflix’s Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt explained why the company isn’t interested in giving its customers the option to watch its shows and movies without an Internet connection.

One of the things I’ve learned is that every time you offer a choice, you paralyze some people who can’t decide if that’s what they want to do or not. Now, that sounds really stupid and self-serving, but it is in fact true. It’s the ‘Paradox of Choice’, the jam experiment – you put strawberry, apricot and blackberry jam in the supermarket aisle and you can persuade half the people coming down the aisle to taste the jam and maybe buy one. But if you decide to add lemon, orange, blueberry and grapefruit, 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.

There’s definitely some truth in that response. While it doesn’t apply to everyone, a lot of people will spend arguably too much time just looking for stuff on Netflix before finally deciding on what to watch, myself included. Even if I’m in the mood to watch a horror flick, I’ll inevitably get bogged down browsing through comedies and new TV shows.

That said, it’s almost rude to keep a helpful-to-streamers option out of contention just because they don’t think that streamers have the brains to handle the decision-making required to watch things. If you’re about to go on a flight, and you know you want to watch a couple of episodes of Daredevil, the whole “Paradox of Choice” argument doesn’t really hold much water as far as the downloading angle goes. And if they want to limit the downloading choices to just original shows, it might help bring more people to lesser-known projects like Narcos.

But then, Hunt doesn’t really think that enough people would use that option to begin with, because he thinks it’s too complicated for people to grasp. Here’s how he explained it to Gizmodo.

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.

It can’t be just me that thinks Hunt sounds like a CD manufacturer making the same argument about not wanting to get into the download business because iTunes is just too complicated and no one would want to use it. Certainly there are some people for whom portable electronics are a brand new mystery that might not have the most in-depth understanding of how this all works, but most people these days are well aware of what they’re doing with their mobile devices.

What do you guys think about it?

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.