Now You Can Watch Some Netflix Offline

Well, Merry Christmas. When those 80 jilllion people fly away for the holidays this year, you’re likely to see a lot more smartphone and tablet owners using their devices even when the Internet is not available--to watch Netflix.

The big online content provider announced this morning that as of now, users can download a reasonably decent amount of decent content to be watched later. “Orange Is The New Black” is among the offerings. So is “Narcos” and Oscar winner “Spotlight,” so we're not talking Jim Belushi Film Festival level stuff.

“While many members enjoy watching Netflix at home, we’ve often heard they also want to continue their “Stranger Things” binge while on airplanes and other places where Internet is expensive or limited,” a message to users reads. “Just click the download button on the details page for a film or TV series and you can watch it later without an Internet connection.”

This development may change more than we can really contemplate. Lots of users lock on to their Netflix whenever they can, and now they can in all of the places where once they couldn’t. You might notice even more smartphone users fully engaged on the subway.

I’ve learned over the years that companies rarely announce free things without motives beyond just being nice corporate citizens. (Though a bunch of stories like this one must have some earned advertising credit.)

A little less than half of Netflix’s 87 million users live abroad, where getting Internet access is a lot iffier than it is on U.S. airlines. Not at all coincidentally, recent Netflix earnings data suggest it’s just about tapped out its major growth possibilities in this country. The rest of the world is where it hope there’s a big fat market waiting. So the free downloads could be a big plus.

Here’s another thing. Amazon Prime has been offering this same feature to its customers since sometime last summer, so possibly Netflix feels some pressure to respond.

But possibly, Netflix also recognizes that Amazon is in the midst of a worldwide expansion, too. Amazon tipped its hand about that earlier this month in the same typically clumsy way it deals without almost everything related to its content service which is so underexposed a good portion--maybe 20%-- of the people who get it don’t even know it. Until now Amazon has only been available in the UK, Germany, Austria and Japan.

Assuming Amazon’s forays into foreign countries goes well, the free download could have become a potent selling point in parts of the world where Internet access is about as reliable as a Donald Trump campaign pledge.
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