Pressure growing on Netflix as more streamers intro downloads

Netflix is looking to solve the problem of mobile data while more VoD services offer solutions that work right now.

Wuaki.tv is the latest video-on-demand service to start offering a download service, presumably putting more pressure on Netflix to change its stance on offering its own content for download.

Following Amazon's recent, game-changing announcement there have been a number of streaming services jumping on the download bandwagon with Wuaki.tv being the latest. Smaller providers are looking to the offline caching feature as a way to differentiate themselves from the streaming behemoth.

Wuaki.tv actually titled its press release about the new feature as 'Wuaki.tv beats Netflix to offline downloads.'

Starting on iOS and Android devices, the caching service will allow subscribers to buy or rent TV shows or movies and store them offline. Wuaki.tv estimate that around 90% of its content will come under the download umbrella, even allowing rented content to be cached and viewed offline for 48-hours from the moment it's rented.

Similar streaming service, M-GO, also offers a caching service though only on content you purchase outright rather than on the videos it rents out. But

it's not just the streaming guys that are offering the download goods; the TV networks are also increasingly putting the pressure on, with North American channels making the move towards caching. In the UK we've had iPlayer downloads for a good long while and Sky Go Extra offers the offline service for its subscribers too.

The recent move by US movie channel, Epix, though has greater significance given that its deal with Netflix US - to allow it to show films like The Hunger Games and World War Z - is about to run out and not be renegotiated.

If you were a subscriber to Epix in the US you would get the opportunity to download selected movies, reportedly the top couple of hundred films, to watch on your mobile device with a similar 30-day window to Amazon.

Bandwidth-savers

These companies are citing the move as a way to save bandwidth on the go and mean you don't have to go overboard with your mobile data allowance.

Netflix though has long stated its refusal to offer a download service claiming that it's just “a short-term fix for a bigger problem.”

To its credit, Netflix is looking to actually solve that bigger problem. And that problem is the amount of data needed to stream movies and TV shows at a decent level of visual fidelity for a small screen.

We sat down with Netflix's Chief Product Officer, Neil Hunt, recently and questioned him about offline caching in light of Amazon's move.

"I feel like what consumers want is not the download model," Hunt told us. "What they want is the ability to consume anywhere they happen to be. And that might be on a plane, on a train, in a car or outside."

One solution, he explained, was the possibility of putting the mini Netflix servers it installs into exchanges to boost streaming performance at a local level into aeroplanes as inflight entertainment. That could also stretch to trains too.

Source of the problem

More interestingly though Netflix is also looking to develop a royalty-free encoder with the aim of high-efficiency, low-bandwidth streams for mobile devices.

"The stretch goal I would like to achieve is a decent picture on a 10cm screen at 250kbps," said Hunt. "That suddenly begins to put a typical Netflix consumption pattern – 30-40 hours a month – within reach of a mobile plan."

That's a laudable goal indeed.

But in the meantime viewers looking for that video fix on the go are left with a stark choice. Either bury their data plan watching Netflix or make the change to another service, like Amazon Prime Instant Video, which will let them take their content away with them.

It may still be a short-term fix, but the offline caching model looks set to gather momentum until the Open Codec Alliance - of which Netflix, Facebook, Microsoft and Google are a part - get their super low-bandwidth encoder up and running.

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