Netflix Exec Shoots Down Offline Viewing, Says Wi-Fi Everywhere Is The Better Solution

You’ll probably never be able to store your Netflix shows offline the way you can with your Spotify or Rdio music tracks, according to Netflix’s senior management. That’s not exactly surprising, but to hear from Cliff Edwards, Netflix’s Director of Corporate Communications speaking to TechRadar that “[i]t’s never going to happen” basically allows for no ambiguity.

Edwards called offline caching a “short-term fix” that avoids addressing the more important, long-view problem: better and more widely available Wi-Fi connections. Offline downloads are something Edwards says won’t even be an issue for Netflix service customers in around five years’ time.

Offline storage of Netflix shows would allow users to watch programs on flights without in-flight wireless, on transit or during outages so long as they have content cached. In the streaming music industry, it’s seen as a core component of on-demand music offerings like Rdio. The conditions of consumption likely make it much more important for music services to offer this kind of access, as compared to a video platform like Netflix, but it’s still interesting that this distinction exists.

Netflix’s rhetoric around this issue is likely at least in part spin, moving the focus toward Wi-Fi infrastructure improvement and away from other concerns likely preventing caching from becoming a part of the platform: Licensing agreements probably prevent it, for instance, and costs required to secure offline playback from providers would be prohibitive.

That fact is that offline caching would undeniably be a benefit to users – no amount of spin can obfuscate that. Netflix’s play of reconfiguring the discussion to be about Wi-Fi availability has validity, but it still doesn’t change the fact that offline viewing would add value for consumers.

Value add or not, it looks indeed like it will never happen, so let’s hope that Netflix helps in earnest to bring quality, widespread Wi-Fi to more locations missing it.