Discussion about
peter

March 26th 2012 3:54 pm

Online video services need offline caching

I have a simple feature request for Hulu, Netflix, and all of the other online video services out there: let us cache programming for offline viewing.

I know I can't be the only one out there who'd love to be able to load up my phone or tablet with a few hours of movies and shows before getting on airplane, or just to be able to watch something while I'm out of the house without having to worry about chewing up my battery by pulling down all that data over 4G.

We've already seen streaming services combined with something like this before. Offline caching has been hugely successful for the likes of Spotify and Rhapsody, and in fact its introduction is probably a major reason why so many people have felt comfortable signing up for a monthly subscription.

There is no technological reason why something similar couldn't be offered for video, it probably comes down to licensing, as I'm sure the online video services probably would love to offer this. I'm guessing the content providers (i.e. the networks and studios) would be a big stumbling block here. Presumably they want to force consumers who want offline viewing to pay for downloads (a strategy which I doubt is all that successful), but why not offer offline caching as a premium on top of a regular subscription fee and then limit the amount of content that can be cached at any one time and/or that can be cached per month? Online music services let you save up to a few thousand tracks on your mobile device for offline listening. For video I'd say up to 10 hours of programming at a time would be fair. I know I'd easily pay an extra $5 a month for it (if not more, to be honest). Split the extra revenue with the content creators and everybody wins.

The other reason to do this, and this isn't a trivial one, is that with the wireless carriers introducing bandwidth caps, suddenly streaming lots of movies on your phone starts to carry some very real costs (and not just in terms of battery life). Having LTE on your phone or tablet is great, but if you burn through your bandwidth allotment watching movies on a weekend trip it starts to limit the value of that service for you. Offline caching would give online video providers a workaround of sorts by letting users load up on programming when they're on WiFi for watching later.

Anyone else with me on this?

UPDATE - jademason raised another good reason in the comments: buffering. Offline caching would let him download a show all at once and then watch it later without buffering issues.

This discussion is closed.

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81 replies
jademason

I would love offline caching, but for a totally different reason. I want to prevent buffering and still get a good picture. I live off the beaten path. There are no cable, fiber, or even high speed telephone offerings in my area. I get my internet service via microwave wireless antenna, and my only other option is a dish. My download speeds aren't bad (~1.4Mb in good weather) but I'm at the mercy of the weather and the other subscribers I share the tower with. I can usually stream Netflix and Hulu fairly well on their lowest quality settings, but it really ruins a show (especially a comedy) when I'm interrupted every few minutes to allow the program to rebuffer. I'd much prefer the option to have my Hulu+ and Netflix instant watch queues download to a local cache that I could watch from. This could even be a boon for carriers as the download speed could be throttled as needed since I'm not watching in real time. I know I could just buy shows at a time through Apple or Sony, but the cost is prohibitive when I'm already paying multiple monthly subscription fees for streaming content.
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dnlrchrt

I just moved out to the middle of nowhere Texas. Is the microwave wireless antenna the way to go for Internet? What will that cost me?
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jademason

OT: My local service starts at $45/mo for 768kbps down/384kbps up and throttles based on usage. I pay double that for double the speeds and no throttling. The advantage of going microwave over satellite is the low latency of the microwave service (anywhere from 30-150ms) vs. satellite (>600ms). The microwave service works well for VoIP and most gaming where the satellite would really fall down.
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savedR

Yep. In my experience satellite can give you a bit better download speeds, but it's so asynchronous it becomes terrible for anything requiring you to upload, like gaming, etc. I had a friend a few years ago who had satellite internet that wasn't even two-way; they actually had to use a telephone modem to maintain a dial-up connection for ALL uploading and used the satellite for downloading only. It worked fine until she tried to send me a 3MB .mp3 through an IM client...
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AlanJayWeiner

that must be a mess trying to play Call of Duty... :)
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captronchron

That's my major problem too, the buffering halts. I don't want to pay more to ATT every month just to down load movies in real time without buffering. Just let me record Netflicks like they do with HBO!
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Jinto

I dont see why they cant do it like the library does Ebook and Audio Book Digital loans you download it and are able to use it for a set period of time mostly 7-14 days. Now if Netflix and others would allow you to download it for viewing on that device for 3-14 days that would be great but this will never happen because all of us customers are seen as pirates by the movie industry :(

But its a great idea and one i would hope services like Netflix would role out on some type of offline form even if its limited as long as i can watch movies/Tv shows with out the need of being connected to the internet
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baileylo

You can rent movies like this from iTunes.
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dnlrchrt

Which is nice, but gets pretty costly very quickly.
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savedR

This. Why isn't there a sort of all-you-can-eat video service mirroring music services like Rhapsody and Spotify that let you download what you want and play everything only as long as you're a current subscriber? Even today, it's arguably way, way more difficult to illegally copy downloaded video than audio, which I always thought was the biggest argument against this.
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JamieWho

It would be a great addition to an iPod Touch so that I could watch movies while not in range of wifi. This would really help with road trips and other times where you want some video distraction for the kids, but they are not satisfied with the few movies you loaded up before you left.
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BTDT

This would also be a great feature to insure against bad hotel wifi or 3G/4G connections. Of course, you would have to remember to perform these caching activities when connected to the big pipe at home, so there would always be those times when you end up disappointed by not being able to get to your content when you want it.

A better, future-leaning solution would be higher quality connections everywhere you need to use them, including hotels and the on-plane wifi connections. Caching is just a workaround to the lack of adequate bandwidth. However, what is the incentive for providers to make this kind of bandwidth available? They could charge the consumer directly, or a more-interesting model would be to skim a few pennies off of the media service providers, who would basically be paying to provide their product to their end customers, and could include this as a cost of doing business.
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dnlrchrt

Well said, Peter. I couldn't agree with you more. I'd pony up $10 a month for that.
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ColinR

As would I!
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savedR

j0.
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lategordon

Google Movies offers the ability to download rented videos to your device. With Google Movies, you get 30 days from rental date to watch movie. Once you start watching movie you have 24hours to watch movie. The caching of the movie to your device does not begin 24hour clock.

On the Kindle Fire, downloading the movie to the device begins the 24 hour watch period.
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savedR

I think Blockbuster does this on Android too, right? Those are the only two download-then-play services I can think of off the top of my head. Both of these are pay-per-use, though, still no AYCE video subscription services and there really needs to be one.
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jonv

In the uk the BBC iPlayer has an Adobe Air app that lets me download for viewing later on the Mac. Essential here as not enough bandwidth to support sensible streaming. Unfortunately no easy way to get these onto the iPad.
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mbuchmann

I use PlayOn (www.playon.tv) with my Roku and they have a service called PlayLater which saves video streams for playing later. Once saved, one might be able to transfer to other devices. I have not tried PlayLater, but I have been pretty happy with PlayOn. Monthly / Yearly / Lifetime subscriptions available, 14 day free trial.
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Toddias

I am with you on this one. I became a lifetime member to PlayOn a few years ago and I use it a lot via my XBox360 and my iPhone/iPad/Nook to Android device. I have tried PlayLater and it definitely works (video quality can vary) and the vids can be moved to other devices (or can be streamed as "my media beta" via PlayOn - or some other app...I prefer Air Media for iOS video streaming). People should at least try it out.
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robungar

Can you explain the benefits of PlayOn? I'm not super familiar with it and a look at their website doesn't make it clear to me what the benefits are since the XBox360 has Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube. I could see how it was useful before those were available but does it still have some utility?
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Toddias

Hi...sorry for my delayed response...work has been kicking my butt lately. So, PlayOn provides more access to more things that the XBox alone allows for. It also works on other devices like an iPhone or Android tablet. I actually bought PlayOn years ago...before the XBox added Netflix and Hulu and ESPN. So, for me, it was worth it. Now, however, I find that my XBox, and all that it offers, is pretty much enough for me (and dead simple for my girlfriend to use - which always helps). PlayOn comes in handy for my iPhone and for some other steaming media that the XBox does not have, but it really is not something I use as much as I used to. My suggestion would be to try out its free trial just to see if it makes sense for you. Probably Xbox alone would be fine overall...and that only seems to be getting better and better with time. Have fun and good luck!! T
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captronchron

But what about the ability to move media to other devises? I don't get that with Netflix or Hulu thru the boxes I have. like Tivo & U-Verse or WD.
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Toddias

Hi. I am not sure I am understanding your question so I apologize if my answer does not address the info you are looking for. PlayOn is a media streamer. It is a program that runs on a computer on your home network. Things like the XBox or an iPad are "end devices" that can interact with it. You run an app on the "end device",it connects to the PlayOn program running on your computer, and you watch content that basically uses PlayOn to stream from your computer on down to the end device.

On the computer/PlayOn side, you can create logins for services like Hulu and Netflix and ESPN3. There are other services there as well...like MTV or HGTV etc. You can also point PlayOn to any media files you have on your network (downloaded movies, for example) so that those are part of what is available on the end device (Xbox, iPhone, etc.). Anything PlayOn has access to on the Host computer can, in theory, be steamed to the "end devices".

So, what it offers overall is some access to web-only content that you cannot get on an Xbox or Tivo or U-Verse. Only certain "end devices" will work with PlayOn...the Xbox and iPad are 2 of them. There are others. But, it is only a streaming solution. It does not actually "download" any files. The same company does make a solution called "PlayLater" that does record streams. I have tested it on a few Hulu streams and it works. It is just not something I really need overall.

Again, I would take a look at PlayOn's website for a better description and a free trial. See if it would work for you. I like the product and I purchased it at a time when it was the best solution for me...although I do not use it all that much anymore. It is still sort of cool, though.
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captronchron

Thanks Toddias, that DOES clear the whole idea up very well. I'l just go to PlayOn and see what it can do for me and go from there.
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corgan

I originally posted to this thread then removed my entry, because it missed @Peter's point entirely. Since @jademason has formally introduced the reason of caching for reliability, I feel better about revisiting my response.

In the least, I understand the need for long-term caching of video, but I don't share it as passionately.

To @Peter's point, with networks imposing throttling: it is certainly obvious. The reason I don't feel the urgency, however, is I have never found mobile video compelling. Unlike music and podcasting (which have caching systems deployed) I've never desperately desired video on my phone--even with a 4 hour daily commute.

Network quality, therefore, is more my deciding factor. When watching at home, the only thing standing in my way of an enjoyable experience is the fidelity of my connection.

In my dormitory, we are supplied with a network which is fairly decent, even on a bad day--enough to demand HD streaming from my Roku most of the time. If this should fail (which, on occasion, it does), I have resolved to merely find another way to entertain myself.

As defeatist as this seems, it has been instrumental in my ability to be a cord-cutter. I understand that (even with as lucky as I am regarding utilities) the cloud WILL fail me. Evaluating how I consume information and ranking its importance in my life determines whether or not I will be able to relegate its use to the cloud or need to cling to more reliable media (DVDs, Blu-Ray, files). Video, as it turns out, falls pretty low on that list--mostly because I find it cumbersome to manage. (I watch more video now, streaming, than I ever have before--merely by virtue of being detached from it.)

Yet, I understand not everyone (looking at you @jademason) is fortunate enough to have such reliability and speed. Even with my stance, I'm on board with everyone here, because I see nothing but benefit in bettering both service providers and services.

The good news is: I don't think the functionality is out of the question nor too far off. Devices--even PCs--are becoming black boxes. And while one could argue a "spiritual" loss in abdicating power for dumb terminals, the distance between UI and user creates an environment I believe content creators are far more eager to jump into. I think a minimized threat of file management and manipulation by the average person might just be the gateway that rights holders need to do the "right thing."

It's the same old, tired, depressing story: it'll happen--video's just a step or two (or five) behind.
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davidamodt

This kind of solution almost forces you to pirate the shows you want to load them on your device for consumption or get them on itunes/etc for high costs.
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BTDT

I disagree. Nothing forces you to pirate shows, especially if they are available for purchase somewhere. People seem to assume they have a God-given right to content without paying something to all of the people who put their creative and business energies into producing it. There are cases (e.g. Showtime and HBO) where content is withheld for ridiculous periods of time before it is made available to non-subscribers, but even in these cases I simply wait until such content becomes available from DVD/streaming sources. I expect to be paid for my ideas and writing, so why not everyone else?
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peter

I think you're right that no one has a right to get the content they want, in the format they want it, at exactly the moment they want it. But what I think does frustrate people is when they are prepared to spend money for something and they aren't able to get it because they don't live in the right country, or own the right device, or whatever. Not that people who make stuff don't have the right to control its distribution, just that it's tough when you're a fan of something that you can't enjoy it. Does it justify piracy? I suppose not, but I think we've seen time and time again that when you make it easier to pay for content people will do it over piracy.
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savedR

Yeah? Go try to watch Game of Thrones without DVRing it off of HBO...
theoatmeal.com­/comics­/game­_of­_thrones
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corgan

I'm with @BTDT on this one. I have yet to find a piece of entertainment that I wanted to watch so badly that I'm willing to hunt it down and pirate it.

Don't want to make it easy for me? Eff you and your business, then.
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Kazriko

That was true for a few months, but they have released it on DVD and Bluray now. It was a travesty that it took them so long to do so though.
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AlanJayWeiner

True, nothing *forces* anyone to pirate shows, but human nature is what it is - if it's sufficiently inconvenient, or expensive, or irritating, etc, some people will move to piracy. The worse it is, the more people likely pirate.

Perhaps I missed an episode of a show; the DVR hiccuped, or a power or cable failure.

I'm already paying for the show with my cable fees. Should I have to pay again to watch it at Hulu, iTunes, or Amazon?

Part of the initial broadcast is paid by advertisers - by not viewing the show when originally shown (or on DVR recording) I'm missing those ads; the advertisers aren't getting the eyeballs for which they paid.

Perhaps I should pay because of that, but it just *feels* wrong to have to pay again just to see the episode I missed.

(In reality it's often available free on On-Demand, so this exact case isn't usually a real issue.)

It'd be better if content is available conveniently and inexpensively.

A buck an episode doesn't sound bad, until it's $20 for this season of this show, then another $20 for that show, and on and on. And if that's on top of already paying for cable?
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dnlrchrt

I agree with ajw on that one. My satellite went out and I was without DVR for a night. Missed one episode and am not gonna pay to DL a show I have already in essence payed for.
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sdmitch16

Don't they show re-runs?
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Kazriko

I'm OK with $1 per episode, but the going rate seems to be at least $2 per episode, and that's way too excessive for me. I pay about $2 per disc to rent from Netflix (on average) and those discs usually have 3-4 episodes on them.

Sony's service sometimes costs as much as $4 per episode on some things, and that's the only service that currently delivers content to the Vita other than Netflix Streaming.
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AlanJayWeiner

hmm... I'm watching NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles, Fringe, Being Human, Walking Dead, (and Talking Dead after it), Nikita, Awake, The Closer, CSI, and random other shows. That would be rather a lot to watch pay-per-episode!

Honestly, except for the above which I watch every week, I'd much rather watch a series on DVD than recorded live - no commercials and watch show-after-show. I did that when I started watching Torchwood; got the first seasons from the library and watched them whenever and wherever I wanted.

The local library has a decent DVD catalog. Another town nearby has enough it'd put Blockbuster to shame.

Free, unless I forget to return them... :)
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evlnte

The other reason is that until net neutrality is in effect, whether voluntarily or by regulation, certain streaming services will continue to be throttled. My experience with Netflix is horrible on Comcast. However, if I go over to my brothers who has AT&T, Netflix never freezes.
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leigh

I have Comcast and use Netflix a ton for streaming (as well as Hulu) and I don't have any issues.

Matter of fact, the only issues I have is when I torrent something... (A few weeks back one of my DVDs went bad, I torrented the content that was on that DVD so my son and I could watch it)... the torrent is super fast but as soon as it's done my connection dies and I have to restart everything to get back online. I am leaning towards it being an in-house hardware issue rather than a Comcast issue but I'm not 100%.
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Dawagner1

Permission Needed
Caching for offline use is certainly a big need and would be great, if the content owners will allow it. Apple is just now starting to make headway in allowing you to pick up and watch movies on multiple devices. I suspect that it will happen ... eventually. :)
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kylakunz

Absolutely and by all means, cache and carry ought to offered for convenience of subscribers.
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EG

HBO GO really needs this. Occasionally the app will glitch out on my stream even though I have a very fast connection. When that happens I have to restart the stream. A simple cache would be ideal to smooth this out.
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devron

I think we all want this. Part of the reason why I don't consider services like Hulu or Netflix (beyond the disc-based service) is because of their reliance upon having a connection. (Usually when I have access to a pipe, I have access to other content I'd rather watch anyway.) I'd LOVE to queue up even as little as 3 - 5 hours worth of content that maybe expired in, say, 24 hours if it didn't get to phone home or something. But I just don't think the foresight and innovation exists at levels high enough to make this happen. Cynical, I know. But just look at what we have from the content companies. They can't even learn to take $.99 cents per TV show understanding it's obvious psychological advantage over $1.29. I mean, all technology sales these days are laptops, smartphones and tablets. You meant to tell me they don't see this?!?! The content companies want to keep their death grip on things until they can all get in a room and agree how to partner on things like 'Ultraviolet' and other 'been there/done that' solutions. (Solutions that will be far too complicated for the mass market to adapt.)

(This is a different matter, but lately I have just become so cynical in the face of how controlling, antiquated and seemingly collusive our wireless carriers have acted. (I still can't believe they all raised the ETF for smartphones at the same time AND THEN in another few months did away with unlimited mobile plans at about the same time and nobody cried 'foul'. Seems like collusion to me.)

With most people opting for the cheapest iPad and most likely an Android tablet that isn't tied to any wireless subsidy or contract, everyone would benefit from this. But somehow I think it's been raised and content providers have probably shot it down while trying to keep their death grip on their industry.

...meanwhile we continue torrenting and finding other ways to get our content when we'd gladly pay them a reasonable cost to watch the content legally at a decent quality and without ridiculous time limits and restrictions.
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savedR

Mm hm. I'd use these services I already pay for (Netflix) on my mobile device way, way more if I got the ability to locally queue stuff.
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savedR

"Having LTE on your phone or tablet is great, but if you burn through your bandwidth allotment watching movies on a weekend trip it starts to limit the value of that service for you."

YES. It's total bullcrap, but it looks like non-unlimited data isn't going anywhere soon on any US carrier. Therefore, it doesn't really matter how fast our access gets when the overall data is still limited and billed this way.

No matter how many Verizon reps try to tell me otherwise (you have no idea), it is cheaper, much faster and unlimited for my phone to queue stuff while I'm at home and on wifi versus streaming it on the go, and doesn't bodyslam my battery nearly as badly, either.

(Not kidding about wifi above. It's almost impossible to feel like you're going to be effectively helped when you call up your wireless carrier and they try to tell you using wifi counts against your OTA data plan.. on like TEN separate occasions.)
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techscott

I suspect this is NOT a technical issue but a legal one. I suspect that the media whores are worried that people will steal thier shows. Have these folks seen BitTorrent? There is no REASONABLE reason NOT to cache content locally. Hell encrypt it!
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inferno521

I have a kindle fire, and take a commuter train 30 minutes each way. I would love to be able to cache an hour of amazon prime. It would make the kindle fire so much more valuable
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hershncc

I think the big issue with Hulu (what I use) is that if they allow offline caching, it makes it harder for advertisers to actually "advertise" their products (and obviously the networks and licensing). Since a lot of what funds Hulu is the advertising (and plus memberships), this may be why caching the files for offline use hasn't been made available. We could simply fast forward past them, since there is no online connectivity to monitor it (or send any feedback data for advertisers for interactive advertising and evaluating different demographics). They could try making a special video file that simply breaks them into chapters (like a dvd) and goes into an advertisement that you can't "skip" past, much like some previews on a DVD. It would be more complicated, but at least the advertisers would be happy (sort of). I pay for Hulu Plus, and I hate that I still have to be forced to look at advertisements. I get that i'm paying for more "content", but it just feels weird.

Simply said, I would fork out $10 instead of $8 a month to be able to cache my files for streaming without internet connectivity - and if there were no advertisements that would be even better!
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peter

I think this is an interesting point, presumably something could be figured out where you were served up ads you couldn't skip, with analytics reported back next time you're online.
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