Hulu ads vs. no ads plan: Should you pay extra to nix commercials?

Find out all the differences between the different Hulu plans, and if spending the extra $6 each month is worth it for you to go commercial-free.

Alison DeNisco Rayome Managing Editor
Managing Editor Alison DeNisco Rayome joined CNET in 2019, and is a member of the Home team. She is a co-lead of the CNET Tips and We Do the Math series, and manages the Home Tips series, testing out new hacks for cooking, cleaning and tinkering with all of the gadgets and appliances in your house. Alison was previously an editor at TechRepublic.
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Alison DeNisco Rayome
3 min read
Hulu April 2020
Sarah Tew/CNET

For TV fans and cord-cutters  Hulu is a must-have, especially in the age of coronavirus when we're all stuck at home starving for entertainment. The popular TV and movie streaming service has a wealth of familiar shows from networks like ABC, Fox and NBC that you can watch soon after they air, as well as a growing catalog of critically-acclaimed original series. For Hulu fans the bigger decision may be whether to choose the basic plan with commercials for $6 a month, or upgrade to the Hulu (No Ads) plan for $12 a month.

I tried out both versions of Hulu, ads and no ads (it should be noted that you can also subscribe to a Hulu Plus Live TV plan with or without ads, or add on some premium channels to any plan). Here's how the two Hulu basic plan options differ. 

Read more: Hulu review: The best value in streaming if you don't mind a few ads

Hulu (with ads): Best for casual viewers

Hulu's most popular plan with ads is a great choice for three groups of people: Those who are used to watching live TV with commercials, those who are primarily using the service to watch short comedies, and those who want to save some cash. 

I watched a few shows on Hulu's option with ads. In my experience, watching one 22-minute episode of Bob's Burgers, there were no ads. In a 23-minute episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, there was one 15-second ad. But while watching an hour-long episode of Saturday Night Live, I saw one 15-second ad at the start, followed by eight more ad breaks throughout -- six lasted 90 seconds, one for 60 seconds and one for 45 seconds. This was obviously more disruptive, but similar to how it would have been watching it on regular live TV. 

There appeared to be fewer ads during Hulu Originals: Before an episode of The Handmaid's Tale, I saw one 30-second ad. The same was true for an episode of Utopia Falls. In an episode of High Fidelity, I saw one 30-second ad in the middle. 

If you're used to watching live TV with commercials, this is all no big deal -- especially if you're primarily watching shorter comedies on Hulu, or Hulu Originals. There's also the low price point: $6 a month for access to Hulu's full catalog is a very good deal compared to other streaming services . Netflix's basic plan starts at $9 a month, as does Amazon Prime Video's (if you aren't already a Prime member, that is). If you can handle the ads, $6 a month is a strong case for this Hulu plan.

Hands-on with Hulu's TV and mobile app

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Hulu (No Ads): Best for serious binge watchers

If most of your TV watching happens ad-free on Netflix , or through fast-forwarding ads on your DVR, and you really hate watching commercials, upgrading to Hulu (No Ads) is probably worth the $12 a month. As the name suggests, the experience is ad-free, so you won't see any commercials at all, making for a more Netflix-like experience. 

The ad-free plan is also a solid choice if you use Hulu frequently, particularly to watch hour-long shows. This way your bingeing experience is uninterrupted. 

However, there is one caveat: A few shows will still have ads, even on the ad-free plan, due to licensing issues. Hulu says the list is subject to change, but right now it includes the ABC shows Grey's Anatomy, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and How to Get Away with Murder. It's also worth mentioning that Hulu with Live TV's ad-free option also shows ads with some on-demand titles.

Despite that, a big advantage of Hulu's no-ads plan is that it's the only way to download shows to watch offline. Unlike Netflix, you can't download shows to watch later unless you have the upgraded plan.

The $12-a-month price for Hulu (No Ads) puts it into the higher end of the price range when it comes to its streaming service competitors. But if Hulu is going to be a major part of your streaming service rotation, the extra $6 to cut out pesky commercials is worth it. 

Watch this: Top 5 streaming services for live TV