Like many of you, I've been astreaming customer for at least a decade. Over the years, the service tacked on new features, created a few pop-culture beasts and stuck to its commitment to show no commercials. Netflix has been an ad-free zone since 2007. But everything changed when it announced a six months ago. It came as a shock to many, even though just about every other streaming rival has an ad-supported plan.
Basic with Ads rolled out on Nov. 3, about a month beforeand its own ad tier for $8. My curiosity was piqued about how Netflix would handle its new "with ads" subscription, especially since we've gotten accustomed to -- and maybe even spoiled by -- the commercial-free setup. Would the experience be like Hulu's? Are ads part of every single thing we watch?
I checked it out and, well, it's not that bad.
Let me say this first: 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 gives you content in 720p resolution and HD, one stream at a time 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.
More than 200 titles are unavailable to watch on this subscription like Paddington, Oblivion and all of Daniel Craig's James Bond movies. But Netflix lets you know which ones are off limits by marking them with a lock symbol and a note: "Unavailable on Basic with Ads due to licensing restrictions." Back in October, the company said it's working on it -- meaning the absence of titles -- so be aware that what's limited today may not be in the future. When I clicked on the tile for a locked show or movie, I received a sales pitch urging me to upgrade to an ad-free plan. Though it's an upsell, it's convenient if you really want to watch a piece of content in that moment. Paywall be damned!
Upon sign-up, I noticed Netflix automatically created aon my account, which I guess is because I clicked on a few animated selections while I curated my new account's main profile. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because there aren't any commercials for content under the kids' profile.
Ads don't play on everything
While the Kids Profile is ad-free, regular profiles have some ad-free content too. Plenty of animated shows and movies do not include commercial breaks, and there are select titles -- family-friendly and beyond -- that you can watch without interruption.
Examples include Avatar: The Last Airbender, Community, The Sea Beast, The Christmas Chronicles and Good Witch. The Bodyguard had a preroll ad, but no ads during the rest of the movie. Are you wondering whether it's better to stream something on the kids' profile to avoid ads? Not necessarily. So far, I haven't been able to find any animated titles with commercials. The same goes for Nickelodeon shows like Victorious and iCarly.
I'll warn there's really no way to tell which series or films lucked out, but if you start playback, just look for the yellow dots on the progress bar to see how many commercial breaks to expect. Like YouTube, those dots will either be scattered or nonexistent.
Netflix Originals have ads
You may want to know if the streamer skips ads for its own branded content, or at the very least slips in a smaller amount. Short answer: No. Netflix does not give preferential treatment to its own content. Your favorites like Stranger Things, The Witcher and Cobra Kai all have ad breaks, but the amount and frequency varies.
When I streamed Enola Holmes 2 -- which was released on Nov. 4 -- there was only a 30-second set of commercials before the film and no ads during the movie. Netflix announced that new films would not feature ads, so this was unsurprising. Season 5 of The Crown, however, kicks off with five ad breaks... including a preroll.
Ad breaks vary in length
When Netflix outlined its ad program, the streamer explicitly stated that we'd see 4 to 5 minutes of ads per hour of content. This is accurate. During a one-hour episode of Love is Blind, I encountered a 30-second round before the show started and three more breaks during the episode. The first commercial break was 75 seconds long and had four ads. The second break had three ads that ran for 75 seconds, and the final round lasted 75 seconds with three ads. That brings the total to just over 4 minutes.
Shows like Supernatural and Jane the Virgin had a preroll and three, 60-second ad breaks in the middle of their 40-minute episodes. Altogether, that's three-and-a-half minutes. For shorter TV show episodes like Cobra Kai and Naruto, there were three ad breaks: one 30-second spot before the show started and two in the middle that lasted for 60 seconds. That's 2.5 minutes. A two-hour movie like Mr. and Mrs. Smith had an ad break before the film and four more throughout that lasted for 75 seconds each.
In comparison, Hulu had roughly 5 minutes' worth of commercials in a single 22-minute episode of Bob's Burgers during our test. HBO Max's Our Flag Means Death has shorter, roughly 30-minute-long episodes. The platform ran one 25-second round of ads at the start of the show, and two more ad breaks for about 30 to 45 seconds each. That's on par with Netflix.
As far as ad variety, I powered through at least 20 TV shows and movies on this Basic with Ads plan. The commercials were from brands like 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 began to see the same ones daily or when I watched a different title.
Those missing TV shows and movies may matter
Among the top titles on the platform this week are 2022's The Bad Guys and The Secret of the Greco Family. Both are unavailable on this plan, and if you're a fan of Labyrinth or Knight Rider like me, those are also off the table. If you have kids, they won't be able to watch Sing 2, Gabby's Dollhouse, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts or a slew of DreamWorks shows, including the Tales of Arcadia series. Guess what else is blocked? Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous and Minions & More content.
Couple the missing content with commercial breaks, and the $10 Basic plan could be looking like a better deal. Why? You get access to Netflix's full catalog on the higher-priced subscriptions, plus you won't be tempted to succumb to Flo's push to get you to switch to Progressive or Beyoncé's musical campaign for Tiffany & Co. While the ads aren't beating you over the head in length or repetition, spending the extra $3 to go ad-free could be the way to go.