Netflix on Mobile Devices

Category: Mobile , Video

Netflix first made its name (and dug Blockbuster's grave) in the rent-by-mail DVD business. Today, Netflix is going all out to push its streaming video service, called 'Watch Instantly' to computers, game consoles, tablets and smartphones. But does it really make sense to watch movies on a 'small screen' mobile device? Here's my take...

Watch Netflix on a Tablet or Smartphone?

For less than $10 a month, owners of the Xbox, PS3, and home computers with high-speed Internet access can browse the Watch Instantly catalog, click on a title, and watch their entertainment without waiting for the postman. But Netflix didn't stop at your living room.

In the summer of 2010, Netflix introduced Watch Instantly apps for the iPad, iPhone, and Windows Phone 7 devices. An Android Watch Instantly app has been delayed over security and DRM issues arising from Android's fragmented development landscape. Techno-geeks think Netflix on mobile devices is utterly cool.

But even Netflix executives admit they are not seeing much ordinary consumer interest in watching full-length movies and old TV episodes on mobile devices. At the November, 2010, Web 2.0 conference, Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings admitted that streaming to mobile devices amounts to a tiny fraction of Watch Instantly activity. The reasons are pretty obvious.
Netflix Mobile

The tiny screens of smartphones are not very suitable for watching big-screen movies, or even TV episodes shot for 19 inch television screens. Sure, tablets are a bit bigger, but it's still difficult to enjoy an "immersive experience" on a 9 or 10 inch screen. Sound quality is another issue; there is no way a pocket-sized smartphone or tablet can give you Dolby 5.1 SurroundSound, especially on a bus.

Then there's the bandwidth issue, which I believe will kill Watch Instantly for all but the richest mobile geeks who don't care what their monthly mobile bill is. AT&T and Verizon have already done away with unlimited mobile data plans, capping monthly allowances at 20 or 30 GB and charging up to $10 per additional gigabyte. A DVD movie can easily consume 4 GB or more, with transmission overhead.

Netflix Watch Instantly is not available outside of the United States due to licensing restrictions imposed by content providers. And yes, you can use free public WiFi to stream Watch Instantly content to your smartphone or tablet. But for how many hours are you going to sit on a hard chair in a coffee shop or public library instead of your comfy couch at home? Hotel guests increasingly find Netflix blocked when they try to avoid pay-per-view charges in their rooms. Movie lovers with wifi at home, and a decent sized tablet device may find it workable. But wouldn't those same people likely have a 50-inch plasma TV on the wall?

For all its coolness, Netflix on mobile devices is not very practical for all but the tiniest minority of consumers.

Agree or disagree, I'd like your feedback on this topic. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Netflix on Mobile Devices"

Posted by:

30 Jun 2011

I agree but think that the rise of the tablet is going to change it all. Pretty nice watching it on a 10.1 inch tablet in my bed.

Posted by:

30 Jun 2011

Long story short--I have a room in my house that doesn't have any sort of internet connected device tied to the TV. (The reason why is the long story...) So I bought the cable for my iPhone 4 that connects it both to power and RCA output jacks. Voila...instant streaming to this 1990's TV system, without any additional charges. And I haven't run into the data plan limit as described in the article. I'm not sure, but perhaps because my phone connects to my wireless router in the house, it isn't streaming through the data plan access??? Not sure, but like I said, we have the biggest AT&T data plan they sell, and I still haven't run into the problem. And I took the cable with me on a recent business trip as well, plugged into the flat screen in the hotel room, and once again...Netflix on demand (although definitely a poorer picture than the wi-fi connection at home).

Posted by:

Cathy Harper
30 Jun 2011

Absolutely no surprise to me that there isn't much interest in tiny-screen movie streaming. Watching all the hype that the smart phone/tablet mfg. splash on their ads, I kept remembering how fantastic it was to see TV screens increasing in size over the years, and wondering why in the world anyone would EVER pay extra money to reverse back to screens even smaller than those available in the 1950's! Obviously, not in every case is "new" inherently "better".

Posted by:

John Hathorn
01 Jul 2011

Bob, two major disadvantages in Netflix's Instant Viewing - either through my computer or iPad, is (1) the lack of subtitles and (2) the inability to get to the Special Features. I love Netflix's backlog of British comedies and, although I have watched them for years, I sometimes find the accents difficult and subtitles help. Also, actors who go straight to the screen and didn't pass through stage performance phases in their careers (where they have to project and enunciate their words) speak like they have a mouth filled with mush. Subtitles are a must for them -- too many actors aren't perfecting their craft.
As far as Special Features, I particularly like the director's and actor's commentaries. After watching the film, a scene-by-scene reliving of what and why they did and, especially, how they solved some problems in special effects gives a fuller appreciation of who the real geniuses of the movies are. Is it possible that when a movie does not have a Commentary, the director isn't a REAL GENIUS?
There are too many distractions in daily activities to enable one to fully appreciate a movie-on-the-hoof.

Posted by:

Jeannine Baker
01 Jul 2011

What do you think of the Roku for watching Netflix, Pandora, and music? I am thinking about
buying one.

Posted by:

01 Jul 2011

OK, watching a movie or TV show on my iPhone may not be an "immersive experience," but it is a way to escape the "real world." Watching a "Doctor Who" episode makes it possible for me to survive exercise time on my treadmill. The picture, while tiny, is excellent. Hearing the sound with earphones is acceptable. This is the only way I can stand my boring exercise routine!

Posted by:

01 Jul 2011

I personally couldn't care less, whether or not Netflex is available on a cell phone. When I want to watch a movie, I want to watch it on a large TV. I don't even want a Netflex subscription for my large TV, either.

Now, the showing of brief or short videos on your cell phone, that is acceptable to me. I realize that many people take videos with their cell phones, especially of events that are happening or of children. These to me, are 'moving snapshots' of family or friends life events. The need to share, as quickly as possible, is simply a part of today's fast-paced culture.

I only know, that when I upgrade my cell phone shortly to a smart phone, I will not be using Netflex or pay for their service.

Posted by:

07 Oct 2011

I absolutely LOVE having Netflix on my iPad2. I like to watch South Park while I'm cooking and it's a blessing. Since I have wi-fi in the house, there's no issues about streaming. Yes, it's a toy but it's the coolest toy in the universe. =OD

Posted by:

13 Nov 2011

I've watched a Netflix movie on my phone---once. My big complaint with streaming anything on the phone is that the battery doesn't last long enough to watch a movie, unless the phone is plugged in.

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