Downloading video for offline playback continues to gain momentum with Showtime announcing late last week that it has enabled downloading of its entire roster of programs from its standalone subscription and TV Everywhere apps at no additional cost. Downloading is available on iOS and Android phones and tablets plus Amazon Fire tablets.
Loyal VideoNuze readers know that I’ve been an enthusiastic downloading proponent for 4 1/2 years, back to when I first experienced TiVo’s implementation of it via TiVo Stream. I immediately saw downloading as a killer app because it allowed high quality out-of-home viewing independent of shaky or non-existent WiFi hotspots and/or eating up expensive mobile data plans (if they could even support video streaming).
Of course the best use case for offline viewing was on flights where, at the time there was no high quality in-flight WiFi (that’s changed a bit since, especially with JetBlue’s Fly-Fi). The ability to get 5-6 hours on a cross-country flight to catch up on your recorded shows was and still is liberating.
Of course, the wrinkle with TiVo was that you first had to actually have a TiVo (still a relatively small population) and then you needed to record the program in advance and then transfer it to your mobile device. Similarly, Comcast also introduced the idea of “checking out” recorded programs for Xfinity users. Admittedly this multi-step process is a first world problem, but still it required some advance thinking.
That changed in September, 2015 when Amazon introduced downloading in its Prime Video service for iOS and Android devices (it had previously enabled it only on Kindle HDX devices 2 years earlier). For Amazon, with its heavy investments in kids’ shows, offline viewing meant Prime subscribers could load up a mobile device for a long car trip, preempting the idea of carrying around DVDs and a portable player.
Meanwhile YouTube dabbled in downloading, offering it as a feature, albeit understated, in its YouTube Red subscription service, launched in October, 2015. It also introduced YouTube Go, initially in India, last September, which enabled offline viewing and built on prior offline viewing initiatives in Asia.
Finally Netflix, whose executives had incongruously belittled downloading’s appeal as recently as a year and half ago, finally introduced downloading last December, but only for certain shows. With Netflix finally on board, the last big holdouts appear to be Hulu and HBO, which still does not offer downloading in either its HBO Now OTT service or its HBO Go TV Everywhere app. However, Hulu has said it will be offering downloads soon and I have to believe that HBO will follow at some point soon.
While downloading has gained a ton of momentum, out-of-home mobile viewing in general has been boosted with the advent of unlimited mobile data plans and the proliferation of WiFi hotspots. While these give users even more options, I’m still a big believer in the value of downloading, especially when connectivity is spotty and/or non-existent. With OTT services investing heavily in original content, giving users as many opportunities to consume as possible is critical and downloading will continue to be a valuable feature.