Clicking into something on Netflix’s new ads tier is a roll of the dice: you never know how many ads you might have to sit through.
Netflix Basic with Ads is finally here, offering a cheaper Netflix subscription at $6.99 per month with the tradeoff that you might have to watch some ads with your movies and TV shows. I spent some time messing around with a new account on the tier on Thursday, and while the experience of using Netflix was mostly the same, what struck me was the unpredictability of how many ads I’d have to watch.
Netflix says you can expect to see an “average of 4 to 5 minutes of ads per hour.” That’s about what I experienced as well, but I was surprised by when the ads might appear. It isn’t like broadcast TV where you knew exactly when and, often, how many ads you’d have to sit through before the show came back. Here are a few of the variations I experienced:
- Every Netflix-branded show or movie I tried had an ad at the front but had differing numbers of midroll ads
- Community, Seinfeld, and Grey’s Anatomy had no ads
- Three Netflix movies I tried only had ads at the beginning but none in the middle
- The movie Crazy, Stupid, Love had front ads and one spot for midroll ads
- The Italian Job had front ads and three spots for midroll ads
- Spider-Man had no ads
As for the ads themselves, they’re pretty standard online video ads. With my brand-new account, I was served ads for things like cars, hotels, cruises, jewelry, and fragrances. Netflix says ads are 15 or 30 seconds long, which matched my experience. You can pause them, but you can’t skip them, though Netflix helpfully counts down how long the ad break is in the top-right corner of the screen.
One major drawback to the ads tier is that some things just aren’t available to watch. Those shows and movies will be marked by a little red padlock in the top right-hand corner. If you see that, you can’t watch the show.
You can click on things with a padlock. On the web, Netflix will helpfully take you to a new screen that lets you immediately upgrade to a higher-priced tier with access to everything. On iOS, Netflix just suggests that you pick an ad-free plan but doesn’t directly point you to anything, likely due to Apple’s restrictive App Store rules.
Netflix has been signaling that some things wouldn’t be available on the ads tier due to licensing issues, so it’s not exactly a shock. In my brief time with the ads tier, I didn’t find too many padlocks, but there were a few surprises.
Arrested Development, which first aired on Fox but got new seasons on Netflix, is entirely unavailable to stream. Four of the top 10 movies in the US today (including the top slot, The Bad Guys) have the red padlock. And I saw a bunch of padlocks in search results for “classic movies” like Skyfall, 28 Days, and The Imitation Game. Since there’s no real way to know if something isn’t available until you search for it, it’s an issue you’ll have to live with if you opt for the ads tier (until some kind soul puts together a list of what’s blocked).
Netflix Basic with Ads is exactly what I expected: it’s Netflix, with ads. If that’s something you can live with, and you’re okay with other tradeoffs like 720p video quality and no offline downloads, then saving a couple of bucks with the cheaper tier might be worth it. Personally, I’ll be sticking with the no ads options since I see enough ads on the internet already.