Many binge-watchers rejoiced in November, when Netflix announced it would finally let users download some of its shows and movies for offline viewing. After all, who wants to wait for Wi-Fi access before streaming new episodes of Orange Is the New Black on your phone?
But Netflix users are also finding out that there are limits to the popular service's download function, including expiration dates on some downloads as well as a limit to the number of times some individual films and TV shows can be downloaded by each user. As the website Android Police first pointed out this week, it appears that some Netflix content can only be downloaded a certain number of times per year, and there does not seem to be a clear figure for the limit. Android Police estimates the limit to be four to five downloads annually for a single piece of content, depending on the content.
That means Netflix users are unlikely to know if they are in danger of exceeding their limit until they receive a pop-up message warning that they are about to run out of downloads for a piece of content. Because downloads for some titles expire as soon as 48 hours after they are first played, users might need to download a specific title multiple times if they want to watch it more than once over the course of a year.
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Netflix doesn't give a detailed explanation for the issue, the result of the streaming service not owning all of the content it makes available, in its online help center. In response to user complaints about "Expired" messages on certain downloaded titles, the Netflix help page notes that some of the service's content "may only be renewed a certain number of times" before it expires for good. "Due to studio limits, you may not be able to renew all titles," the help page says. "If you are unable to renew a title but would still like to watch it, you’ll need to connect to the Internet to stream."
When Netflix finally allowed users to download some of its video last fall, the move followed years of the company claiming it had no interest in offering such a feature. Company executives even went so far as to suggest that Netflix users could become overwhelmed with an excess of viewing choices if given the option of streaming or downloading some programming. As Fortune pointed out in November, though, Netflix seems to have caved on the issue due to its goal of increasing its international footprint. Some of the countries where Netflix is expanding its presence, especially emerging markets, simply lack the access to high-speed Internet necessary for mass adoption of the company's streaming platform.