Like many of you I was aStreaming customer for at least a decade. Over the years, the service added new features, created a few pop culture beasts, and stuck to its commitment to no advertising. Netflix has been an ad-free zone since 2007. But everything changed when it announced one six months ago. It came as a shock to many, even in a space where almost every other streaming rival has an ad-supported plan.
Basic with Ads officially launched on November 3rd, about a month earlierand a custom ad tier for $8. I was curious as to how Netflix would handle its new “advertised” subscription, especially now that we’ve become accustomed to — and maybe even spoiled by — the ad-free setup. Would the experience be like Hulu’s? Are ads part of everything we watch?
I checked it out and it’s not that bad.
First, let me say this: Netflix’s ads are seamlessly embedded into TV shows and movies, much like cable TV commercial breaks. But that doesn’t mean the extra $3 for the basic ad-free version isn’t worth it.
Here’s what I learned.
Netflix with ads is missing some TV shows and movies
For $7 a month, Basic with Ads gets you 720p and HD content, one stream each, and commercials. It’s essentially the same as the $10 basic plan, except you can’t download anything and you don’t have access to Netflix’s full catalog. You read that right.
Over 200 titles are unwatchable with this subscription, including Paddington, Oblivion and all of Daniel Craig’s James Bond films. However, Netflix does alert you which of these are off-limits by marking them with a lock icon and a note: “Unavailable with ads due to license restrictions on Basic.” Back in October, the company said it was working on it — indicating the lack of titles means – so be aware that what is limited today may not be in the future. When I clicked the tile for a blocked show or movie, I received a sales pitch asking me to switch to an ad-free plan. Although it’s an upsell, it’s handy if you really want to watch some content right now. Damn paywall!
When I signed up, I noticed that Netflix automatically created oneon my account, which is probably because I clicked on a few animated selections while curating my new account’s main profile. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as there is no advertising for any content under the child profile.
Ads will not play all
While the child profile is ad-free, regular profiles also have some ad-free content. Many animated shows and movies don’t have commercial breaks, and there are select titles – family-friendly and beyond – that you can watch uninterrupted.
Examples are Avatar: The Last Airbender, Community, The Sea Beast, The Christmas Chronicles, and Good Witch. The Bodyguard had a pre-roll commercial but no commercials throughout the rest of the film. Are you wondering if it’s better to stream something on the kid profile to avoid ads? Not necessarily. So far I haven’t been able to find any animated titles with ads. The same goes for Nickelodeon shows like Victorious and iCarly.
I caution that there’s really no way to tell which series or movies got lucky, but once you start watching, just look for the yellow dots on the progress bar to see how many commercial breaks to expect. As with YouTube, these dots are either scattered or non-existent.
Netflix Originals have ads
You may want to know if the streamer is skipping ads for their own branded content, or at least showing a smaller amount. Short answer: no. Netflix does not favor its own content. Your favorites like Stranger Things, The Witcher, and Cobra Kai all have commercial breaks, but the amount and frequency varies.
When I streamed Enola Holmes 2 – which was released on November 4th – there was only a 30-second ad before the film and no ads during the film. Netflix announced that new movies would not feature ads, so that wasn’t surprising. However, Season 5 of The Crown begins with five commercial breaks…including a preroll.
Commercial breaks vary in length
When Netflix outlined its advertising schedule, the streamer specifically stated that we would see 4 to 5 minutes of advertising per hour of content. That’s exactly. During an hour-long episode of Love is Blind, I experienced a 30-second spin before the show started and three more pauses during the episode. The first commercial break was 75 seconds long and had four ads. The second break had three ads running for 75 seconds and the final lap was 75 seconds with three ads. That brings the total time to just over 4 minutes.
Shows like Supernatural and Jane the Virgin had a pre-roll and three 60-second commercial breaks in the middle of their 40-minute episodes. That’s three and a half minutes in total. Shorter TV show episodes such as Cobra Kai and Naruto featured three commercial breaks: a 30-second spot before the show started and two in the middle that lasted 60 seconds. That’s 2.5 minutes. A two-hour film like Mr. and Mrs. Smith had a commercial break before the film and four more, each lasting 75 seconds.
In comparison, during our test, Hulu had about 5 minutes of commercials in a single 22-minute episode of Bob’s Burgers. HBO Max’ Our Flag Means Death has shorter episodes, around 30 minutes long. The platform ran a 25-second round of commercials at the beginning of the show and two more commercial breaks of around 30 to 45 seconds each. That’s on par with Netflix.
As far as ad variety goes, I’ve played through at least 20 TV shows and movies on this Basic with Ads plan. The commercials came from brands such as Discover, Chipotle, Garnier, Experian, M&Ms, Boar’s Head, Chevrolet, Prada and Tiffany. While I didn’t see the same ad twice during an episode or movie, I started seeing the same ads on a daily basis or when watching a different title.
Those missing TV shows and movies can be significant
This week’s top titles on the platform include 2022’s The Bad Guys and The Secret of the Greco Family. Neither are available in this plan, and if like me you’re a fan of Labyrinth or Knight Rider, those are off the table as well. If you have kids, they won’t be able to watch Sing 2, Gabby’s Dollhouse, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, or a number of DreamWorks shows including the Tales of Arcadia series. Guess what else is blocked? Content from Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous and Minions & More.
Combine the missing content with commercial breaks and the $10 basic plan might look like a better deal. Why? You’ll get access to Netflix’s full catalog with the pricier subscriptions, and you won’t be tempted to give in to Flo’s urge to switch to Progressive or Beyoncé’s music campaign for Tiffany & Co. As long as the ads don’t hit you excessively in length or repetition, spending the extra $3 to go ad-free might be the way to go.