Netflix's 'smart downloads' cue up your next offline episode automatically
Sorry, iPhone users. It's only on Android for now.
Joan E. SolsmanFormer Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Netflix wants to start keeping your downloads fresh for you.
Streaming-video giant Netflix is introducing a feature this week called "smart downloads," which deletes shows you've watched offline and automatically downloads the next episode for you.
"Downloading today is a very manual process, and most of the time people will only download a couple episodes of a show at a time," Cameron Johnson, a director of product innovation at Netflix, said last week in a briefing. "Whenever possible we want Netflix to do the work for you."
Netflix resisted downloads for years, banking on the idea that streaming accessibility would eventually reach the point that downloading to watch offline wouldn't be necessary anymore. But as competitors like Amazon Prime Video began offering downloads, and as Netflix itself expanded internationally to markets where mobile connectivity wasn't as reliable as in the US, Netflix relented. In 2016, it began letting subscribers download much of its catalog.
With "smart downloads," the Netflix mobile app automatically deletes episodes you've completed and replaces them with the next show in the series once your phone connects to Wi-Fi again.
The feature is part of an update to Netflix's Android mobile app this week. Smart downloads aren't available for iPhone, but Johnson said the company hopes to update Netflix's iOS app sometime later this year to add them.
Smart downloads are one-for-one. So if you binged three episodes during a long plane ride, the app will delete all three and queue up the next three episodes for you. And smart downloads will progress into the next season of a series. So if you finish watching a season finale on your commute into work, you can connect to your office Wi-Fi and the next season's premiere will be waiting for you on your ride home.
Watch this: Netflix 'smart downloads' manage your offline episodes for you
It's limited to episodic TV series, not movies, standup specials or other kinds of programming. Johnson said Netflix has a high degree of confidence that if you download and watch one episode of a TV show, you'll probably want another.
"Even though we have a great personalization system, we don't know what's the next movie you're going to want to watch," he said. "We're taking the point of view to not be presumptuous and let people choose for themselves."
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