If you’re a Netflix fan, you’ve probably found yourself stuck in the subway or on an airplane or somewhere else without Internet access, and wished that you could be watching Orange Is the New Black or Stranger Things instead of twiddling your thumbs.
If that’s the case, then Netflix (NFLX) has just given you—and millions like you—an early Christmas present. The company announced on Wednesday that it is rolling out the ability to download movies and TV shows for offline viewing.
There are a few caveats to this gift, however, including the fact that not all of the content on Netflix is available for download. For the most part, the new feature applies to Netflix’s original TV shows or movies, as opposed to shows licensed from other providers—although that could change because the company said “more are on the way.”
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Netflix said new versions of its Android (GOOGL) and iOS (AAPL) apps are due out soon that will incorporate the new feature. A “download” button will appear next to the title for shows and movies that allow offline viewing, and there will be two options offered: standard quality and high quality. It’s not clear what resolution high-quality refers to, or how much space it will take up.
What’s interesting about the new feature is that for some time, Netflix maintained that that it had no interest in offering downloading for offline viewing, although it started to soften that stance earlier this year with a few hints about possibly offering downloads. So what changed?
One thing that probably helped change the company’s mind was the expansion into new international markets, which happened in January, when the service rolled out into more than 190 countries. International expansion is a key part of its plan to boost future growth and justify its sky-high stock price.
In many of those countries, particularly in emerging markets, high-speed Internet access and ubiquitous wireless aren’t as common as they are in most of North America, and that can make streaming a movie or TV show a challenge. Offline downloading will help viewers in those countries get access to the service more easily.
The other thing that probably helped change Netflix’s position on downloading is the growing threat of competition from e-commerce giant Amazon (AMZN) and its Prime Video offering, which has offered the feature for some time now. YouTube Red also allows offline viewing.
Amazon (AMZN) has made no secret of the fact that it would very much like to become Netflix, or at least eat into the company’s dominance. The web giant has been spending big for movies and TV shows like Manchester by the Sea and The Grand Tour, and it recently announced that it too is expanding into more than 200 international markets.