Netflix offline playback

Yesterday’s Netflix update for iOS and Android allows subscribers across the world to download movies and TV shows for offline viewing on smartphone and tablet devices. Image via Netflix

APEX Insight: An update to Netflix’s app now allows subscribers across the world to download content for offline viewing on smartphone and tablet devices. American Airlines’ Brian Richardson and Air Canada’s Éric Lauzon weigh in on how this change to Netflix’s service offering could affect the in-flight entertainment industry.

Want to binge watch Stranger Things or Black Mirror at 35,000 feet, even on an aircraft that isn’t equipped with in-flight Wi-Fi? Now you can. Yesterday’s iOS and Android Netflix app updates allow subscribers across the world to download movies and TV shows for offline viewing on smartphone and tablet devices.

Netflix told APEX Media that after launching in more than 130 countries earlier this year, many of which do not have the infrastructure required to provide sufficient Internet connectivity for reliable video streaming, the company decided to introduce offline playback. “We wanted to be able to better serve members and provide [them with] more control over their watching experience,” said a Netflix spokesperson.

The announcement may have also been prompted by Amazon’s move to introduce downloadable content as part of its Prime Video service in September 2015. The Netflix competitor’s service is currently only available in the US, UK, Germany, Austria and Japan, but is expected to expand to about 200 countries.

Should airlines and in-flight entertainment (IFE) vendors be worried about this fundamental change to Netflix’s service offering? Brian Richardson, American Airlines’ director of In-Flight Entertainment and Connectivity, doesn’t think so. “While I don’t think it’s revolutionary, this change is going to make binge watching a bit easier for Netflix customers who can’t connect in flight,” he says. “There are limitations [to offline viewing] because it still requires passengers to plan ahead and have enough storage space on their devices.”

Éric Lauzon, Air Canada’s manager for In-Flight Entertainment, describes Netflix’s announcement as a potential “game changer in the industry, as Netflix adoption rate is quite high amongst worldwide travelers.” But he also says that, “It is a good news story for airlines with sub-fleets that offer no IFE to their passengers.”

“The game is not completely lost to Netflix, but this certainly marks the beginning of a new IFE era.” — Eric Lauzon, Air Canada

But how might Netflix’s offline playback impact airlines that have invested heavily in securing early-window content? “I’m sure Netflix, like other digital content platforms, will be putting more and more pressure on Hollywood studios to access our early-window bookings, but airlines can still offer the most recent blockbusters before they do,” explains Lauzon.

Lauzon also says that, due to the fact that more airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi and increasing satellite connectivity speeds, it’s already becoming easier for passengers to stream content from Netflix, provided they buy a connectivity package on board. “The game is not completely lost to Netflix, but this certainly marks the beginning of a new IFE era.”

Ari is the digital content strategist at APEX Media.