Netflix is looking to cut Apple out of its action by removing the option to purchase a Netflix subscription via the App Store’s in-app purchasing system. According to TechCrunch, while the streaming media giant says it has been “testing the iTunes payment method” in 33 countries, what it actually means to say is that it’s texting how to bypass the iTunes payment method. Until Sept. 30, anybody in Europe, Latin America, and Asia subscribing to Netflix will be unable to pay using iTunes, and will instead be redirected to the mobile web version of the Netflix site to enter payment details directly.
The move is probably unsurprising considering Apple’s shift into producing its own media streaming service, along with the fact that Netflix has to give Apple a 15–30 percent cut of all subscriptions made through the Netflix iOS or tvOS apps. It’s unclear, however, whether Netflix will have to adjust its strategy if it decides to implement the feature beyond the testing stages in order to avoid running afoul of Apple’s App Store policies, which require developers to either make subscriptions available via in-app purchase or ensure that their apps are devoid of any buttons of links to alternative ways of signing up.
For example, Spotify’s similar move in 2016, resulted in Apple rejecting the Spotify app for attempting to circumvent Apple’s rules on in-app purchases. While Spotify accused Apple of anti-competitive behaviour, claiming it was blocking Spotify to bolster its own Apple Music service, Apple in turn pointed out that Spotify was in violation of a policy that has been in place since in-app subscriptions first came to the App Store in 2011. While Apple’s in-app subscriptions policy had a rocky start, with the company originally requiring that all subscriptions offered by a developer be available as in-app purchases at the same pricing as they are available elsewhere, Apple later softened this policy after a strong pushback from several developers, allowing subscriptions to be sold solely outside of the app, on the condition that the app itself contain no advertising, buttons, or external links to direct the user to subscribe outside of the app. This remains Apple’s policy, as noted in Section 3.1.1 of Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines, which states, in part, that “Apps and their metadata may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than in-app purchase.”
Netflix is currently trialling the new billing system in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan and Thailand. It’s unclear at this point what Netflix plans to do once the trial period has finished, nor how Apple will respond should Netflix decide to go through with a plan to remove the in-app purchase option.