Even Netflix Can’t Avoid Android Fragmentation


When it comes to streaming video on connected devices, Netflix (s NFLX) may be king, as it is now available on more than 200 different consumer electronics devices. But the one hurdle it still hasn’t been able to overcome is finding a way to deliver its subscription video service to mobile phones running Google’s (s GOOG) Android operating system.

Netflix has spent the last several years rapidly expanding the number of consumer electronics devices that have embedded its Watch Instantly streaming service, which is now available on TVs, Blu-ray players, game consoles, TiVo (s TIVO) DVRs and broadband set-top boxes like the Roku player and (soon) D-Link’s Boxee Box. In the mobile space, Netflix has created mobile applications for Apple’s (s AAPL) iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, and the service was one of the first applications to launch on Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 mobile OS.

But the one nut it hasn’t been able to crack is Android, which Netflix says suffers from device fragmentation and lack of a common digital rights management (DRM) solution. Unlike the iOS ecosystem, which is tightly controlled by Apple, or even Windows Phone 7, which has stringent requirements for device manufacturers to follow, many Android devices run different versions of the mobile OS. While this is slowly improving, with more than 75 percent of all Android devices now on Android 2.1 or 2.2, manufacturers and carriers frequently make changes and add “features” to Android that make development difficult for companies like Netflix.

In a blog post late yesterday, Greg Peters from Netflix product development gave an update on Netflix’s plans — and struggles — to port its streaming video service to Android mobile devices. Saying that the company regards Android as an “exciting technology that drives a range of great devices,” Peters lamented the fact that Netflix hasn’t been able to build a single application that can reach all of those different devices. From the blog post:

“The hurdle has been the lack of a generic and complete platform security and content protection mechanism available for Android. The same security issues that have led to piracy concerns on the Android platform have made it difficult for us to secure a common Digital Rights Management (DRM) system on these devices. Setting aside the debate around the value of content protection and DRM, they are requirements we must fulfill in order to obtain content from major studios for our subscribers to enjoy. Although we don’t have a common platform security mechanism and DRM, we are able to work with individual handset manufacturers to add content protection to their devices.

As a result, Netflix will soon ship on some select Android phones, but it won’t be able to reach all Android users. Peters wrote that the fragmentation will also lead to slower rollout across the devices than Netflix would have liked:

“Unfortunately, this is a much slower approach and leads to a fragmented experience on Android, in which some handsets will have access to Netflix and others won’t. This clearly is not the preferred solution, and we regret the confusion it might create for consumers. However, we believe that providing the service for some Android device owners is better than denying it to everyone.”

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