Netflix Blocking Downloads: It’s No Big Deal

Netflix blocking downloads on its upcoming ad-supported plan isn't nefarious—HBO Max, Hulu, Paramount Plus, and Peacock do it, too.

Earlier this year, Netflix announced an upcoming ad-supported plan to counter plunging profits, stock price, and subscriber base. Then the limping streaming juggernaut began testing another protective measure: a password-sharing crackdown. This week, headlines on Ars Technica, Bloomberg, TechCrunch, and other websites warn of Netflix blocking downloads on the ad-supported plans.1 2 3

Given those recent moves, it’s easy to conclude that Netflix is subtracting value from the ad-supported plan in order to boost profits. After all, corporations continue to raise prices and shrink product sizes because of inflation or supply-chain woes or greed. But we can’t blame Netflix for this one.

Paramount+ blocks downloads on its ad-supported plan—ditto HBO Max™, Hulu, and Peacock. Why? Well, it would be complex and costly.

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The point of ad-supported plans is to use ad breaks to offset reduced monthly pricing and boost profits. Allowing downloads would make serving ads difficult. Each time a streaming service would want to swap out advertisements, it would have to create and stream a new, ad-laden movie or episode file. What a contractual, financial, and logistical mess that would create!

It may be possible someday. But, absent some sort of AI that could generate these files, the process would remain costly and complicated.

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In the meantime, let’s cut Netflix some slack. Yes, the download-blocking move seems sneaky, but that’s only because it came from someone analyzing the code for the new Netflix iPhone app. Also, the password-sharing crackdown is irritating. But, again, all ad-supported streaming plans block downloads.

So Netflix hasn’t gone full evil on us. Or has it?

The company is merely doing what competing streaming services already do. But a Netflix spokesperson told TechCrunch: “We are still in the early days of deciding how to launch a lower priced, ad-supported option and no decisions have been made. So this is all just speculation at this point.”

We don’t see why Netflix would be cagey about blocking downloads since that’s the standard operating procedure with ad-supported streaming plans. The company is probably just waiting to announce details until they’re finalized. That, plus blocking downloads on ad plans, seems legit to us.

Endnotes

  1. Mark Gurman, Bloomberg, “Netflix’s Ad-Supported Plan Will Block Downloads of Shows, Films,” August 17, 2022. Accessed August 18, 2022.
  2. Lauren Forristal, Sarah Perez, TechCrunch, “Netflix’s ad-supported plan may block offline viewing, code suggests,” August 17, 2022. Accessed August 18, 2022.
  3. Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica, “Netflix’s ad-supported plan likely to have another drawback: No video downloads,” August 18, 2022. Accessed August 18, 2022.

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