Netflix wants to kill buffering dead

CEO Reed Hastings thinks it'll go the way of the old dial tone noise for internet access. He also weighs in on piracy, artificial intelligence and more.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
2 min read
Watch this: The future of Netflix is lightning-quick streaming

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was in a good mood.

Hastings, after all, just saw his company win its first Oscar for the documentary "The White Helmets" on Sunday night.

On Monday, he was in Barcelona speaking at a keynote session during the Mobile World Congress trade show. "I'm so thrilled to see 'White Helmets' honored," he said.

Netflix has spent the last year expanding to virtually the entire world and has transformed itself from a DVD-by-mail service into a video streaming juggernaut with 94 million subscribers. A lot of those customers watch its library of videos on their phones, which is largely why Hastings was at the conference.

Here are some of the topics he hit in his wide-ranging fireside chat.

On buffering: "We want to make buffering a relic like that dial tone," Hastings said, referring to the noise your old dial-up modem made when you signed into the internet in the early days.

Netflix has invested in network servers, codecs and the content delivery mechanisms to reduce the level of buffering. His goal is to make video on any device instantaneous.

"That really changes your relationship with the service," he said.

Netflix has looked at adaptive technology too, and noted that YouTube has learned a lot. He said the industry is working together to improve the experience.

On data caps: Hastings complimented some of the new unlimited data plans that offer limits on speed as a way to contain the strain on the network. AT&T unveiled an unlimited plan today that restricts your speed to 3 megabits a second.

Netflix has invested in getting quality video delivered to a phone with just 500 kilobits per second of data speed, Hastings said. He's shooting to get to 200 kilobits per second.

On piracy: Netflix can be the solution to piracy.

At least, that's what Hastings believes. If Netflix can offer an affordable legal alternative, it'll be an incentive to get pirates to stop stealing shows.

"We're focusing on the carrot of offering a great service," he said.

On competition: There's competition from all side, but "they're not trying to kill us," Hastings said. Instead, everyone is trying to serve customers.

In the future, all video will be brought to you by the internet, and Netflix will just be one slice, he said.

On the future: Netflix attempts to learn about new trends and adapt to them rather than to commit to one vision of the future, Hastings said. If virtual reality takes off, the company will adapt to that trend. Or it might be smart contact lenses, he said, the same ones seen in "Black Mirror," the tech-based sci-fi series originally on UK's Channel 4, but now Netflix.

Longer term, Hastings has his eye on artificial intelligence. With all the debate about machines taking over one day, "it's tough to think about entertainment.

"I'm not sure if we're going to be entertaining you or entertaining AI," he quipped.