The promise of streaming is that, with a decent internet connection and enough money to pay a monthly subscription fee, you can basically watch what you want, when you want. but what happens when you don’t have a good internet connection? The $13.99 a month you pay for Netflix doesn’t do you much good if you find yourself with no signal or on a plane with Wi-Fi so poor that it’ll be able to load up your inbox at best. Fortunately, for the planners among us, all major streaming services (to some degree) allow users to download movies and shows for offline viewing. that means you, yes you! — you can use your home internet connection to download an entire season of that new dating show where people have prosthetic limbs to look like scary animals and then spend your subway ride in abject horror, no internet required.
But downloading shows from streaming services isn’t always as easy as clicking “download.” Depending on the streaming service you’re dealing with, you may not be able to download everything in your streaming library, most likely due to licensing issues. There may also be a limit on the number of titles you can download or a limit on the number of devices you can download content to. you may even need to pay for a premium version of the service in order to download it. And, because nothing is forever in the world of streaming, there’s usually a time limit on how long you can have something downloaded on your device.
With all that in mind, and to prepare you for the next time you’re ready to download a movie or show now for later, when you’re offline like some kind of philistine, here’s a quick guide to the various rules and limitations that major streaming services have for downloading content. Please note that this guide will not cover every title that is or is not available for download at any given time, as that changes on an almost daily basis.
The (current) king of streamers is pretty good when it comes to letting users download content for offline viewing, but there are plenty of holes in his library. If, for example, you’re hoping to watch the entirety of Neon Genesis Evangelion while on a flight to Patagonia because watching things with subtitles demands 100 percent of your attention on a long, boring plane ride, you might be out of luck.
the netflix website explains that some titles are not available to download for a variety of reasons, usually due to licensing issues. Maybe it cost more money to get the streaming and download rights to a specific title, and Netflix decided that the latter wasn’t worth it. or maybe another company has the exclusive rights or there is some problem with who has the rights in which country. Generally speaking, Netflix Original movies and shows are available for download, although the Netflix site notes that this is not always the case as sometimes Netflix Originals are produced in association with some other studio. In some cases, Netflix may only have streaming rights, not download rights.
the netflix app has a handy “available for download” tab, which can be found by opening the “categories” option in the upper right corner of the main screen. this will filter out all the great shows you wish you could watch on the go but can’t. And, it’s important to note that you can only download titles through the Netflix app, not through the browser. this could be a problem for macbook users as there is no netflix app for mac. however, there is an app for ios, and android, windows 10 tablets and computers, and some chromebooks all have the ability to download. You download the titles by pressing the big “download” button below the play option. for shows, there is a small down arrow to the right of each episode title that you can tap to start the process.
Netflix allows you to download 100 titles at once to your devices, which is more than some of its competitors, and you can store the downloads on an SD card, something other services prohibit. some titles have a time limit of 48 hours once you start playing them before they expire, and some of those titles have a limit on how many times you can re-download them. (sorry we can’t be more specific. it all depends on the specific deal netflix made with the rights holder for any given title!) all downloaded titles – *poof* – will disappear and go back to the cloud, or whatever , if I have left netflix.
Most of what’s on HBO Max is available for download. I browsed the library for a while and couldn’t find anything that didn’t have the option to download. This is an advantage of HBO Max as it is owned by WarnerMedia and as a result has a huge library of Warner Bros. content that its parent company owns directly. Netflix licenses much of its library piecemeal, and as a result there are more titles with a download mia option. hbo max does deals to license some titles (see third-party movies on hbo proper and the ongoing fight with nbcuniversal-owned peacock over the harry potter movies), but you’ll still find “most” shows and movies available for download, depending on the site.
You must pay for the HBO Max Ad-Free plan to download content, and downloading content is only possible in their app. while you’re there, tap the down arrow to the right of an episode or movie title to download. Unlike Netflix, titles cannot be saved to an SD card. there’s a 48-hour time limit once you hit play on a downloaded title, and you can only have five copies of the same show or movie on your various devices.
Please make sure you have selected your preferred language before downloading. you can’t change audio tracks on the fly.
Since Disney owns, well, everything, there are very few restrictions on what you can download on Disney+. you can download content on mobile devices and you can have titles downloaded on up to ten different devices at the same time. (Ten is also the maximum number of devices you can link to a Disney+ account, so if you have a dozen phones and two smart TVs, you can’t download to phones 11 and 12. Mickey was very clear on that.)
There are no limitations on how often you can download a title, nor are there any titles you can’t download on Disney+. The FAQ specifies that there are no restrictions on “content that is proprietary to Disney,” which is basically everything in the library (I couldn’t find anything it couldn’t download). downloaded content can be played an unlimited number of times and never expires once started. All you have to do is use the internet to connect one of your Disney+ linked devices at least once every 30 days, tap the down arrow to download, and the content will stay downloaded. however, don’t think you can download a bunch of stuff and then delete your account forever. Mickey and his friends Iron Man, Luke Skywalker and Homer Simpson will find you.
Because hulu has arguably the largest variety of titles in its library, the ability to download them is also restricted. First of all, you need to be subscribed to Hulu Ad-Free in order to download anything. Premium add-on titles (such as if you subscribe through HBO via Hulu) cannot be downloaded, nor can on-demand titles that come with the Live TV subscription tier. Those on-demand titles from Hulu’s network partners are not part of the official Hulu streaming library! they’re just in the hulu streaming library, sort of. this is fun. we’re having a good time.
Beyond those limitations, you’ll still find that not everything is downloadable on the hulu mobile app, but downloadable titles have the little download symbol next to them and you can view the downloadable content just by navigating through the menu. search. You can have a maximum of 25 titles downloaded at once on five devices, in total, so Hulu is a bit more stingy than some of its competitors. downloads stay on a device for 30 days, and there’s the usual 48-hour window to finish something once you’ve started it before it’s gone.
The amazon prime video app allows downloads for offline viewing, with the standard agreement of 30 days to watch, 48 hours to finish (in most cases). however, when it comes to knowing which titles can or cannot be downloaded, almost everything else is case by case. Amazon Originals are probably kosher to download, but other movies and shows in the streaming library may be subject to other agreements that prevent you, the humble viewer, from downloading them. The total number of titles you can download varies, according to Amazon, “depending on your location and other factors.” the only sure thing is that amazon will not allow you to download a single title on more than three devices at the same time.
If a streaming title isn’t available for download, you may still be able to watch it offline if you pay to rent or buy it. If you buy or rent a movie through Amazon, you may be able to download it for offline viewing, though there’s no hard and fast rule about what you can or can’t download. Once again, it comes down to what deal Amazon has done with which third-party provider, and those details are too arcane and fluid to try to expose here.
If you can download a rented title, the usual rules apply. In most cases, you’ll have 30 days to watch and 48 hours once you start before it expires. rented videos can only be downloaded to one device. purchased content is unrestricted.
apple tv+ doesn’t have a huge library of content, but the shows and movies it does have are pretty good. (Get up, for all the fans of mankind!) Those original shows, by virtue of being owned by Apple, are available to download for offline viewing. just tap on the little icon of an arrow pointing down from a cloud and you’re good to go. rented and purchased content can also be downloaded in most cases, and you have 48 hours to finish once you’ve started. You can only download content through the Apple TV app on a Mac, iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
apple did not disclose what limits there were on the number of titles an account could download at one time, nor did it specify a limit on the number of devices.
Peacock didn’t launch with the ability to download movies and shows, but the nbcuniversal streaming service added the option last September. Peacock only allows downloads if you sign up for the premium plus plan (that’s the $9.99 a month ad-free plan). one account can download to six devices, although no more than 25 titles can be downloaded at once, according to a peacock representative. content expires 30 days after download.
An amazing thing that says something about where peacock is putting all his chips, metaphorically speaking, is that when you search for “download” on the site, there are only two pages of FAQs related to downloading titles for offline viewing. one is just a simple explanation that yes you can download some titles if you have the premium plus plan. the other contains basically the same information but explicitly answers the question “will I be able to download the office episodes for offline viewing on mobile?” imagine I’m storming the camera right now.
If you’re a premium subscriber, you can download movies and shows for offline viewing on Paramount+. (want to download stuff but you’re only on the essential plan? on the FAQ page, paramount+ kindly points out that you can easily download titles if you sign up for the premium plan. thanks guys!) downloads stay on mobile for 30 days, they disappear 48 hours after you start playing them, and you can have a maximum of 25 titles downloaded at a time. you can also download only five copies of any title, maximum, on your various devices.
“most select shows and movies” are available for download. Paramount+ Originals like Star Trek: Picard are on the list, as are most shows from ViacomCBS’s various networks, including SpongeBob SquarePants, NCIS, Survivor, and classic shows like Cheers. movies are a bit more unpredictable. As always, the general rule of thumb is that a show or movie made by the parent company behind the streaming service will be available for download on that streaming service, unless there’s some weird conflicting licensing issue, which happens frequently. /p >
The idea of watching classic movies on a phone screen might be anathema to movie snobs, but the Criterion Channel has titles available for download on their mobile app. To do so, navigate to the title you want to download and tap the “Offline Sync” button. Once downloaded, most content will stay on your device for 30 days before you need to reconnect to the internet to reload the license, and you have the standard 48 hours to finish something once it’s started.
eeeyyyyaaaahhh! shudder, the horror streaming service, does not currently support downloading titles for offline viewing. how scary!
None of these three free streaming services offer downloads for offline viewing. They’re nice, underrated options (especially since they’re, you know, free), but sometimes you get what you pay for.