Why Netflix Won’t Allow Show Downloads

One claim that some consumers love to cite is that more options are ALWAYS ideal – the more choice and options one has with a product the better things are.

That’s often not the case though as providing too many options leads to a paralysis of choice – from students struggling to pick a major, to cable television and VOD services where there’s hundreds of channels and programs to choose from and yet often it’s hard to settle on anything to watch.

Speaking at a recent IFA tradeshow in Berlin (via Gizmodo), Netflix’s Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt says it’s that paralysis is the reason why the company does NOT offer the ability to download TV episodes and movies for offline viewing – even with competitor Amazon recently making the announcement of just such a feature as part of its Prime service:

“One of the things I’ve learned is that every time you offer a choice, you paralyze some people who can’t decide if that’s what they want to do or not. Now, that sounds really stupid and self-serving, but it is in fact true. It’s the ‘Paradox of Choice’, the jam experiment – you put strawberry, apricot and blackberry jam in the supermarket aisle and you can persuade half the people coming down the aisle to taste the jam and maybe buy one. But if you decide to add lemon, orange, blueberry and grapefruit, by adding the choices you don’t increase the number of people choosing one, but in fact you go the other way. Fewer people choose anything at all.”

Hunt adds that he also thinks not enough people would use the option:

“I still don’t think it’s a very compelling proposition. I think it’s something that lots of people ask for. We’ll see if it’s something lots of people will use. Undoubtedly it adds considerable complexity to your life with Amazon Prime – you have to remember that you want to download this thing. It’s not going to be instant, you have to have the right storage on your device, you have to manage it, and I’m just not sure people are actually that compelled to do that, and that it’s worth providing that level of complexity.”

Adding to the complication, it seems when Netflix has tried to add new and very minor features in the past it has met with a backlash:

“We did an experiment with our five star rating system, for instance; everybody said ‘you’ve got to do half stars’, people really wanting to say a film is worth three and a half stars, ‘I didn’t just like it, nor really love it.’ So we left all the graphics exactly the same, except letting you light up an extra half a star, really simple. We had 11 percent less ratings coming in! Just insane! We’ve plenty of cases where we’ve seen that happen.”

Hunt says the challenge for the company going forward is to make streaming work better in more places where people want to stream. He’s also suspicious of Amazon’s offering saying:

“Another complexity for Amazon is that a lot of their content isn’t licensed for download, so only some of it is downloadable. You’ll say ‘I wanna watch this offline’, and it’ll frustrate when it won’t be available. I don’t think it’s something we necessarily need to pursue right away. I think Amazon is playing a good game of PR, but I’m not sure it’s a good consumer experience. We’ll see.”