Don't get your hopes up for watching Netflix on an airplane anytime soon.
Speaking to TechRadar, Netflix spokesman Cliff Edwards made clear that the streaming video service will never allow offline viewing. “It's never going to happen,” he said.
Edwards said offline viewing was just a “short term fix for a bigger problem” of faster, more widespread Wi-Fi access. He expects that in five years, most people won't even care about offline downloads.
It's a lovely sentiment, but it also seems like wishful thinking. Currently, most in-flight Wi-Fi on U.S. airlines is too slow for streaming video and doesn't work on transatlantic flights. While some airlines are starting to switch to faster satellite connections that work over water, it's unclear whether these connections will be the norm by the end of the decade, or how they'll even hold up if every passenger starts using them to stream Netflix.
The bigger problem is that these connections don't come cheap. Wi-Fi on a cross-country flight can easily cost $15 to $20, and providers sometimes inflate prices further to discourage congestion. Given the potential buffering issues that can arise with streaming, at that point it's just cheaper and easier to watch what the airline is showing or pay for satellite TV service where available.
The story behind the story: Netflix is likely covering for the fact that offline viewing would be a licensing nightmare. While rival Amazon allows downloads of Prime Instant Videos, this requires a Fire phone or Kindle Fire tablet and may have viewing period restrictions. YouTube has also flirted with offline viewing, but mainly in emerging markets. Besides, five years hardly seems “short-term” in the world of technology, so perhaps Netflix should go back to its earlier stance that the market for this feature is just too small to begin with.