Netflix recently introduced a welcome feature: you can download Netflix movies and shows for later offline viewing. But is there a limit to how much content you can download?
Shortly after that feature came out, we started pondering: exactly how much stuff could you stash? What if we were going for a nice jaunt around the Arctic Circle, and wanted to ensure that we had enough shows to stay busy if we bored of gazing at the northern lights?
If you’re poised and ready to load up your device for a trip, you’ll be relieved to hear there is only really one immediate limit on how much you can download (and two minor ones). Here’s what you need to know.
Storage Space Is the Only Real Concern
The first and most obvious limit is the physical limitations of your device. You can only store what you have space for, so a tablet with 64GB of internal storage is far better suited for this task than a tablet with only 8GB of internal storage. You can increase how much you can download by opting to download in standard definition instead of high definition (which will save you ~50% in storage consumption).
While you can always check the storage on your device using the built-in OS tools, you can also easily check the storage right from the Neflix app’s Settings menu, which has the added bonus of immediately showing you how much of the storage is chewed up by Netflix’s offline storage (dark gray is spaced used by non-Netflix sources, blue is used by Netflix, and light gray is free space).
Among all the limitations of the new offline viewing feature, this is the only one that actually posed any real immediate threat to offline viewing in our tests. That one’s not on Netflix, though—we should have bought a tablet with more storage.
Licensing Agreements Can Limit Your Downloads
The second, and not immediately obvious limit, has to do with licensing issues. Netflix negotiates different agreements with all the different companies it licences content from, and those agreements can impact how much content from a given company you can download at once.
Although we have yet to run into this issue while field testing the download feature, we talked to Netflix and found that it’s possible company X could cap the number of episodes you download of show A. That means it’s theoretically possible that you could run into a situation where you wanted to download all 6 seasons of a show but Netflix would only allow you to download some of them. We tried to run into this barrier with show after show, but have yet to run into a limit.
Titles Expire, and You Need to Log In Occasionally
Per the fine print in Netflix’s help file on the matter, titles can expire per the license agreement with the companies leasing the content to Netflix. If a title is set to expire from your download collection in the next 7 days or less, you will see a notification to that end on your “My Downloads” page within the Netflix app. Some titles will also expire 48 hours after you first press play (this is also displayed in the “My Downloads” section).
Fortunately, if the particular title is available for renewal per the licensing, you don’t have to download it again—you just have to tap the little “!” icon next to it in “My Downloads” and renew it (while online of course). Unfortunately, there’s really no way to tell which titles have which limitations unless you experiment with them ahead of time, so if your goal is to download all the episodes of Frasier for that Arctic cruise, it might be wise to test things out a few weeks before you set sail. Again, like the limited-downloads issues we highlighted above, this is one of those in-the-fine-print scenarios that we didn’t encounter in the wild.
Finally, you do have to log back into your Netflix account every 30 days. The offline viewing mode wasn’t really intended for any kind of archival purposes, but more for helping you load up your tablet with movies before an international flight. If you’re going to be away from civilization for more than a month, you’ll need to connect back in at least once every 30 days to keep your Netflix offline queue active.
Practically speaking, as long as you have the storage space, you can download as much as you like—the licensing limitations in the fine print never cropped up in any of our tests and we were able to download everything we wanted to. But they’re worth being aware of in case they appear in the future.