Netflix should fear Amazon Prime offline viewing

Amazon Primed for success?
Amazon Primed for success?

Opinion by techradar Global Editor-in-Chief Patrick Goss

Unless you are a Prime subscriber or a TV junkie, the news that Amazon will be offering offline viewing for iOS and Android might well have passed you by.

My esteemed colleague Nick Pino believes that Amazon's shiny new offline streaming service is not really that big a deal as it faces off against Netflix, insisting quite rightly that, without a big library of the latest movies and stellar TV shows the whole feature is relatively redundant.

However, there are two facets to the story that turn this new feature into a much bigger deal - what it means for the industry, and what it means for Prime going forward.

Let's start with the latter, which is a much more straightforward case to make.

Amazon is, by a huge margin, playing catchup with Netflix in the video streaming world, and it's all too easy to disregard its audience in comparison with the industry juggernaut.

Mozart in the Jungle

But that fails to acknowledge something fairly obvious - that Amazon is the 500-pound gorilla in multiple other areas - not least the selling of digital media in books and, of course, hard copies of movies in DVD and Blu-ray.

That allows it to invest huge sums in bringing cool content to Prime, as well as develop its own original programming. It also gives it a powerful voice with the studios who already rely on Amazon to sell their wares.

Amazon has proven to be no slouch in the production of its own content either: Transparent won it a Golden Globe, Bosch picked up critical acclaim and the pilot for The Man in the High Castle has made it one of the most eagerly anticipated TV series of the season.

Amazon Prime offline

Amazon is big enough and rich enough to produce and buy in wonderful TV and films - and that is going to encourage more people into a Prime subscription. It can also offer up other bonuses that are beyond Netflix - the obvious free delivery, the acorn of Amazon Music and the currently slightly disappointing Prime offers that were pushed out last month.

That suggests that Amazon will either close the gap or, at the very least, grow enough to start making serious money from Prime Video, and that's where offline becomes a significant USP over Netflix going forward.

Netflix's insistence that Wi-Fi everywhere makes offline viewing redundant is, currently, just wrong. For any commuter, frequent flyer or even those that care about quality, a good enough connection cannot be guaranteed and watching pixellated noise or just not being able to access content we've actively paid for is, frankly, irritating.

If Netflix do not offer offline caching they will begin to see people migrate to a service that does. And bear in mind that Amazon is not the first streaming service to offer this, with the UK's Sky Go Extra service already proving popular.

And that brings us to the second reason that Amazon's announcement is significant; the TV and movie industry is clearly softening its stance on licensing its content for offline caching as it comes to understand the needs of the public.

Previously, licensing content has been the biggest barrier to offline - bigger than the technical challenges or resistance of companies to shift their models. The fear of piracy and the need for devices to stop simple sharing has been central to big names' reticence to allow content from streaming giants to be cached in device memory.

European giant Sky has clearly benefited from negotiating its way through this minefield for a couple of years now, but when a global player of the size of Amazon adds offline to its feature set you know that the industry has finally grown to embrace this brave new world.

Netflix might well stick to its guns, and Amazon might just find that it Prime Video is not going to become market leader - but the principle of making content available offline from subscription services is here to stay, and that's good news for us all.

Patrick Goss

Patrick Goss is the ex-Editor in Chief of TechRadar. Patrick was a passionate and experienced journalist, and he has been lucky enough to work on some of the finest online properties on the planet, building audiences everywhere and establishing himself at the forefront of digital content.  After a long stint as the boss at TechRadar, Patrick has now moved on to a role with Apple, where he is the Managing Editor for the App Store in the UK.