Will Netflix take chillin’ to cruising altitudes?
Netflix claims to be the “world’s leading Internet television network, with over 75 million streaming members in over 190 countries enjoying more than 125 million hours of TV shows and movies per day.” (See Figure 1)  With this value proposition in mind, Netflix derives revenues primarily from monthly membership fees for streaming content – offline viewing has never been offered by Netflix, despite being a highly requested feature. However, it finally seems the company may be considering incorporating this capability for its users. Unfortunately, we are not the users they seem to have in mind.
Netflix defines its success as capturing consumers during their moments of free time, or “winning moments of truth.”  It appears to be this definition of success that has dictated Netflix’s choice to not offer content for download, a choice that the company has maintained a clear stance on over the past few years. Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt has argued that offering offline playback would introduce “considerable complexity” to consumers’ choices, and that a more complicated, multi-step service might even “paralyze” viewers. Citing the Paradox of Choice, Hunt claims that “every time you add a control, you reduce the total number of users who use them.” 
Hunt’s competitors have taken a different view. Joining smaller players like BBC iPlayer and 4oD, that had already offered offline viewing capabilities, Amazon made a game-changing announcement on September 1, 2015, when it announced that Prime members could download movies and shows to their Android and iOS devices for offline playback.  The development was widely viewed as a means to lure an incremental batch of consumers, including frequent travelers and parents needing distractions for traveling children, away from reigning streaming king Netflix.  In April 2016, with another surprising move, Amazon announced it would spin-off Prime Video as a standalone service for $8.99 a month, going to head to head against Netflix. See stock price performance in Figure 2.
Netflix appeared to maintain its stance against downloadable content until earlier this month, when the company finally made an indication that it is considering offering offline viewing. However, the service appears to be considered in conjunction with Netflix’s launch in emerging markets that have varying levels of broadband speeds and Wi-Fi access. According to Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, consumers in these target markets have adopted a “downloading culture,” and offline viewing could “become more interesting” for those particular demographics.  Other than that, the company still appears reluctant to offer an offline streaming service for its traditional, domestic consumer base. 
Given Amazon’s recent announcements, I think Netflix’s decision will be a hugely detrimental mistake. Consumers have long requested this feature, and Netflix has consistently denied them. Consumers are already supplementing streaming subscriptions with at least one additional streaming service  and I believe this could be a major blind spot in Netflix’s model. In an increasingly global and mobile population, time spent traveling will only have a greater role in dictating how people consume media and in order to stay relevant, Netflix needs to maintain a role in consumers’ content libraries, both on the ground and in the air.
As viewers continue to shift from traditional TV consumption modes to digital channels, Netflix and its competitors will continue to focus on building the best library, with an increased focus on developing original content. The quality of programming for TV streaming services, along with growing availability of net TV packages from services such as Sling TV, continues to entice customers to “cut the cord” from pay-TV providers. As many as 800,000 pay-TV customers are expected to cancel their cable subscriptions over the next 12 months, costing cable providers as much as $1 billion in revenue. With cable networks such as AMC stepping up the competition to retain their customers, Netflix and Amazon have ramped up their spending on movies and TV programs with such fury that they are surpassing many traditional networks. Spending a combined $7.5 billion on programming in 2015, they were outspent only by Disney and NBC. (see figure 3)  In its 3Q 2016 earnings, Netflix announced it expects to spend up to $6 billion on content in 2017.  Largely driving the dramatic increase is an effort to develop its own original content, as it did with Stranger Things, rather than paying other studios. Other online platforms, like Hulu, have also increased their investments in original programming and acquisitions. 
As media consumption continues to evolve in terms of how, when and where consumers are viewing, there is no doubt that Netflix is wise to understand that content is likely to remain king. However, as a frequent flier, I eagerly await the chance to Netflix and chill at 30,000 ft.
- Netflix, Inc., 2015 Annual Report.
- Lynch, Gerald. “The Real Reason Netflix Won’t Offer Online Downloads.” Gizmodo, September 7, 2015. http://gizmodo.com/the-real-reason-netflix-wont-offer-offline-downloads-1729146143, accessed November 17, 2016.
- Amazon.com, Inc. “Amazon Expands Prime Video Downloads to iOS and Android Platforms—The First and Only Subscription Streaming Service to Offer This Feature.” Press release, http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=2084036, accessed November 2016.
- Barrett, Brian. “Amazon Prime Lets You Download Videos and Watch Offline Now.” Wired.com, September 1, 2015. https://www.wired.com/2015/09/amazon-prime-lets-download-videos-watch-offline-now/, accessed November 2016.
- Kharpal, Arjun. “A Netflix Offline Mode Could Be On The Way…But Not For U.S. Users.” CNBC News.com, November 2, 2016. http://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/02/netflix-offline-mode-could-be-on-the-way-but-not-for-us-users.html, accessed November 2016.
- Spiteri, Andre. “Netflix vs. Amazon Prime vs. Kodi vs. Hulu Plus Review: Best Streaming Service in 2016?” N4bb (blog), August 13, 2016. http://n4bb.com/netflix-vs-amazon-prime-hulu-best-streaming-services-2016-update-august/, accessed November 2016.
- IHS Markit. “Netflix and Amazon Outspend CBS, HBO and Turner on TV Programming, IHS Markit Says.” Press release, October 17, 2016. IHS Markit website, https://technology.ihs.com/584722/netflix-and-amazon-outspend-cbs-hbo-and-turner-on-tv-programming-ihs-markit-says, accessed November 2016.
- Netflix, Inc., 3Q 2016 Annual Report.
- Google Finance, accessed November 2016.