As Apple Moves Into Streaming, Netflix Kills Support for AirPlay

Netflix offices in Los Gatos, California, 2011.
Photo: Paul Sakuma (AP)

Streaming giant Netflix has dropped native support for Apple’s AirPlay, with the company revising its support guidelines to state that the switch is “due to technical limitations,” Cult of Mac wrote on Saturday.

As Cult of Mac noted, Netflix streaming via AirPlay—namely, using the feature to stream video from the iOS app to an Apple TV—has been supported since 2013, and there doesn’t appear to have been any major revisions to AirPlay that would in and of themselves break Netflix compatibility. Thus there is some suspicion that Netflix is retaliating against Apple, which is launching a streaming service that includes deals with many major competitors, not including Netflix. Cult of Mac noted that iPhone and iPad users can still use workarounds, including sending video to a Chromecast or TV supporting Netflix 2nd Screen, or just connecting their devices directly to a screen with an HDMI cable via an adapter.

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According to the Verge, Netflix explained the move as involving the growing number of third-party devices that support AirPlay 2, which it claims has made it impossible to distinguish between or certify devices and “ensure our standard of quality for viewing is being met”:

Apple recently partnered with most of the major TV brands to allow AirPlay 2 to send shows directly to their 2019 TV sets with a firmware update later this year, but a Netflix spokeperson tells me AirPlay 2 doesn’t have digital identifiers to let Netflix tell those TVs apart — and so the company can’t certify its users are getting the best Netflix experience when casting to those new sets.

So now, it’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater and pulling the plug on AirPlay, period. “We can’t distinguish which device is which, we can’t actually certify the devices... so we’ve had to just shut down support for it,” a Netflix spokesperson says.

We want to make sure our members have a great Netflix experience on any device they use,” Netflix told the Verge in a statement. With AirPlay support rolling out to third-party devices, there isn’t a way for us to distinguish between devices (what is an Apple TV vs. what isn’t) or certify these experiences. Therefore, we have decided to discontinue Netflix AirPlay support to ensure our standard of quality for viewing is being met. Members can continue to access Netflix on the built-in app across Apple TV and other devices.”

This is probably going to be more of a minor inconvenience for most users than a serious hindrance: Most smart TVs have built-in Netflix apps, and this doesn’t impact other ways of getting that content onto a screen (such as just using an Apple TV or another device with a Netflix app, like an Xbox.) One can also use screen mirroring capabilities already built into AirPlay, which are unaffected. Still, this is going to be rather frustrating for people who did use the feature regularly.

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As Mac Rumors noted, not only had Netflix declined to participate in Apple’s new streaming service, it stopped allowing people to sign up for Netflix within the iOS app in December 2018 (presumably to stop paying Apple a double-digit cut of subscription fees). This situation is reminiscent of another, higher-intensity spat between Amazon and Google that began in 2015, when Amazon booted Chromecast devices from its online marketplace, and steadily escalated until Google blocked Amazon’s Echo Show and Fire TV devices from playing YouTube videos, though again there were workarounds.

In any case, Netflix and Apple have the necessary incentives to get their respective services working with each other again—customers don’t like fragmented experiences like having to jump through loopholes just to play some video. So hopefully, whatever is going on here will get resolved soon.

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[Cult of Mac/The Verge]

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Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post