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Netflix's ad-supported plan may block offline viewing, code suggests

·3 min read

Netflix's upcoming ad-supported tier could have a big drawback -- besides the fact that your programming will be interrupted by commercials, that is. One of the streaming service's more useful features, offline viewing, may not be available to members on this low-end tier of the service.

This discovery came about when developer Steve Moser found code within the Netflix iPhone app that suggested the streamer will block users from downloading titles to their devices for offline viewing.

Text in the code stated, “Downloads available on all plans except Netflix with ads.” It also suggested users would be directed to personalize their ad experience and would not be able to skip commercials, as is expected.

Bloomberg first reported the news, citing Moser's findings which were also published on the developer's personal blog. Netflix declined to comment on the downloads feature specifically, but suggested it may be a part of the final product.

"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," a Netflix spokesperson told us.

While the streaming giant is still in the process of setting up the ad-supported tier and plans to launch in early 2023, this discovery may be a hint of what is in store for Netflix subscribers looking for a cheaper way to stream. Taking away the download option on the ad-supported service will likely turn off some subscribers from switching to the tier -- which could, at least partially, be the intention. Those who regularly utilize the feature, like frequent travelers, would be driven to higher-priced plans without this key feature.

Netflix would not be alone in its choice. HBO Max, Peacock and other streamers with ad-supported plans often don't offer a download function either. Only premium subscribers are allowed to view content offline.

However, the issue may not be just about juicing more revenue out of Netflix subscribers.

Making advertising attribution work properly on offline content can be a technical challenge. Hulu, for example, was years late to launch offline viewing on its streaming service. It didn't add the feature until 2019 -- long after its rivals, Netflix and Amazon, had done the same. While the company never gave an official explanation for the delay, it's likely that ad attribution issues had required additional engineering resources. Its ad-supported tier still doesn't allow for downloads.

Additionally, Hulu may have also wavered on whether such a feature should even be a priority in a world where lack of connectivity has become a less common problem.

Complicating matters is the fact that Netflix is new to the advertising market in general and working with a third party -- Microsoft -- to help power its ad-supported plan. So to what extent it can or cannot offer offline viewing may be out of its hands.

A missing downloads feature may not be the only drawback to the new low-cost tier. The company recently said certain TV series and films will be missing from the ad-supported version at launch, as well.

Netflix intends to launch the new ad-supported plan in early 2023. It has not yet determined the exact pricing.