Listen to music or watch films on your smartphone on the go, without any connection problems. The offline function of many streaming providers makes it possible. How it works, what it costs – and what is prohibited.

    It’s called a throbber – the small loading circle in the middle of the screen that you see when buffering videos. Anyone who accesses streaming services or media libraries on the go knows him by necessity. But: With the offline function, streaming also works on the go.

    Streaming, but offline – easier than you think

    Using media content from online offers offline is less complicated than it sounds. Almost all streaming providers use the function in their apps to download content and access it later without an Internet connection.

    This is not only used by commuters, but “particularly by parents who load content for their children onto a tablet or smartphone before traveling,” says a spokeswoman for SWR, which is responsible for the ARD media library.

    The advantages are obvious, says the Munich streaming app expert Maximilian Reichlin: “The feature allows films and series to be enjoyed even when the connection is bad or fluctuates greatly, for example in households with moderate reception or on the go.”

    Offline function can cost

    The offline function is not always free. “Especially in music streaming with ad-financed freemium models, such a function is an incentive to switch to a paid account,” says Reichlin. This is how Spotify competitor Deezer advertises: “No internet connection? No problem.” Even with YouTube and other streaming providers with a free offer, the offline feature is reserved for paying customers.

    In the public media library apps from ARD, ZDF, Arte or 3sat, on the other hand, the function is free. And with streaming providers like Disney + there is no free option anyway, the offline function is part of the subscription.

    There is no free content on Netflix, the offline function is part of the subscription.Photo: dpa picture alliance

    However, downloaded content from streaming providers or media libraries is not always available. “Unlike with a complete download, content can only be viewed within an app,” says lawyer Christian Solmecke. Then it depends on how long the respective licenses run.

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    Offline availability often limited

    The media libraries under public law can only offer much of their content for a certain length of time. The respective content then disappears from the offline provision. And anyway, not everything is available offline. “For example, in sports, this is not always possible,” explains a ZDF spokesman.

    “Platforms like Netflix or Disney+ have it easier because they mostly rely on their own content,” says Maximilian Reichlin.

    Despite the tendency of many users to hoard content: what is saved and remains available should be “disposed of” at some point. Reichlin recommends cleaning up the download lists regularly. In the ARD media library, there is a system limitation of 50 offline content on Android devices.

    The urge to collect audio and video material is nothing new: “Even in the days of VHS cassettes, most of the recordings were never seen,” says Prof. Hallenberger. Compared to video tape, however, the technical possibilities have improved significantly: “Today, storage volume can be purchased very cheaply.”

    But not everything can be controlled with SD cards or USB sticks. For example, in the ARD media librarybut also in many other apps it is not possible to move the data from the internal memory of the device to an external storage medium.