Attention all Netflix users: you can now download shows and movies for offline viewing. This is not a drill. Want to binge Stranger Things or Orange Is the New Black, on an airplane or on the road heading home for the holidays? Go wild. Want to watch The Imitation Game on a two-hour subway ride? Knock yourself out.
To get offline downloads, just update your iOS or Android app. Once you get the updated app, you can select “Available for Download” from the Netflix menu from your mobile device to see the entire collection of downloadable content. It’s sorted into the types of categories you’re used to, based on other content you’ve watched in the past. If you’re browsing Netflix the normal way, you can identify offline-friendly content by a new downward-arrow icon.
The reason this has taken so long? Allowing downloads means securing a whole new set of rights from the people who made those TV shows and movies. That’s one reason Netflix has invested so heavily in creating original content; if it owns the rights to a show, it can distribute it anywhere in the world, and give users whatever viewing options it pleases. Netflix released roughly 600 hours of original content in 2016 alone; that’s 25 continuous days of viewing, and a strong foundation for its downloadable library.
Fortunately, Netflix has also gone way beyond its own in-house content for this new feature. Good Will Hunting, Mad Men, and Parks and Recreation are just a few examples of high-quality options. “Netflix is working with lots of partners globally to get downloading rights for the bulk of the content on our service,” Marlee Tart, a Netflix spokeswoman, wrote in an email to WIRED. “This is an ongoing effort as we know consumers want this capability and we are working to provide it.”
Those ever-evolving negotiations mean that more movies and shows are on the way, but also that existing choices could disappear. For now, though, it’s clearly put in the work. “If they have the rights already, why not?” says Tony Gunnarsson, a TV and video analyst with market research firm Ovum.
Gunnarsson points out that offline downloads aren’t just about convenience. It’s also about Netflix being a truly global company. For its markets in the US and Europe, Gunnarsson points out, this is just a nice plus: hit download before your subway or plane ride. But in emerging markets, including some countries in Africa and Asia, some consumers just don’t have the kind of internet access that lets you get an uninterrupted stream. Mobile data itself can be quite costly as well. With offline downloads, these customers can just load up on shows whenever they have access to Wi-Fi.
Netflix’s chief streaming rival, Amazon Video, has let its customers download shows for years—also at no extra cost. But Gunnarsson says the company may have not have made enough noise when it launched the feature. On Netflix’s part, timing may have played quite the factor in the company making its announcement now. Not only does this come right before the fourth quarter results in 2016, it’s ahead of Amazon’s own global video rollout.
That it’s available now also means you’ve got plenty of time to free up some space on your phone before the holidays. You’re going to need it; a full season of Narcos takes up 2.3GB all on its own.
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