When Netflix started to stream content online, it turned the movie-watching world upside-down. Blockbuster imploded. Movie theaters across the country are still scrambling to compete.
With 81 million paying users in 130 countries, Netflix has made videos as mobile as your Wi-Fi connection. You can watch "Zootopia" in Bangladesh. In the U.S., DVDs have just about vanished from living room shelves. Unlike all those bygone cinemagoers, Netflix viewers can skip around all they want. New click, new flick.
But what if you could also download those movies and watch them offline? Playing your movies on a portable device, without being dependent on a Wi-Fi connection, could be a real boon for travelers. In this one way, Netflix has fallen behind the competition: Amazon Prime Video allows subscribers to download films, as does the BBC iPlayer.
With Amazon's service, rentals are available for a short time and purchases last forever, so if you want to download every episode of "Mozart in the Jungle" and watch them in an actual rainforest, you can do that. Apple took the opposite route, pioneering downloadable films with iTunes but entering the streaming market only recently.
Netflix may be changing its attitude. CEO Reed Hastings has vocally opposed offline viewing, but according to industry rumors, he is likely caving to consumer pressure. The company is actively collaborating with downloading-guru Dan Taitz, and offline videos may start queueing up by the end of the year.
The rumors have conspicuous timing: 2016 seemed like a lackluster year, but Netflix attracted 3.57 million new subscribers worldwide in the third quarter. Netflix still anticipates 5 million new accounts by the end of the year, despite a minor increase in subscription fees.
Meanwhile, Netflix producers want to increase the volume of original programming. Netflix CFO David Wells has previously stated that he foresees 50 percent original content in the Netflix library. The service will still stream favorites like "Arrow" and "Sons of Anarchy," but it will showcase an equal number of Netflix Original series like "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black."
Hastings isn't making any official promises, and Netflix hasn't offered any comment on the subject. However, many experts agree that Netflix execs would be foolish not to make the offline leap. Millions of customers have petitioned the company to make their content downloadable, ever since Amazon Prime Video exploited this format earlier this year.
You may be indifferent to the offline option since most customers have ready access to Wi-Fi or will even use their cellular data plans. Many flights offer Wi-Fi, so you can even stream Netflix films on your tablet or laptop instead of watching the scheduled in-flight movie. But the option will excite many customers, especially parents traveling on long road trips with their kids.