I tried Netflix’s new cheaper plan with ads to see what it’s like — here’s what is different

  • Netflix launched its ad-based plan in the US and other territories on Thursday.
  • I tried it out after subscribing to the most expensive plan for over a year.

After years of saying it would never include ads on the service, Netflix launched its cheaper, ad-based plan in the US and other territories on Thursday.

The streaming giant had always pushed back on such a thing, but that changed when the company started facing economic headwinds. It lost subscribers during the first two quarters of the year (it rebounded recently, adding over 2 million new subscribers in the third quarter).

It’s a major moment in the company’s history, so I had to give it a try. I made a separate account from my current one because the ad plan wouldn’t have kicked in until after my next bill later this month.

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When you sign up, Netflix asks a little about yourself. That’s typical, except this time one of the reasons is for “ad personalization.”

I tried Netflix's new cheaper plan with ads to see what it's like — here's what is different
Netflix

I’ve subscribed to Netflix’s most expensive, $20-a-month plan for over a year now because it’s the best viewing experience (4k UHD). By contrast, Netflix’s ad-based plan, called “Basic with Ads,” costs $7 per month with 720p/HD viewing quality. You also can’t download titles for offline viewing like you can with the ad-free plans.

There are other key changes, too.

Netflix made it clear when it announced its ad plan that some content would not be available due to licensing deals with other production companies (which Netflix said it’s working on).

Looking at the homepage, that’s not initially clear.

I tried Netflix's new cheaper plan with ads to see what it's like — here's what is different
Netflix homepage.Netflix

I didn’t notice any “locked” content during a quick scroll through the homepage, except in Netflix’s top 10 lists of its most popular content that day. In other words, Netflix is doing its best to hide the content you can’t watch if you subscribe to the ad-based plan.

On Thursday, four movies in the top 10 in the US were locked on the ad plan, including the No. 1 movie, “The Bad Guys.”

It’s not until I searched for specific titles, which pop up other related titles, that I could see more of what was locked (locked titles have a convenient lock symbol on them).

I tried Netflix's new cheaper plan with ads to see what it's like — here's what is different
Not everything on Netflix’s ad plan is available.Netflix

It would be impossible to know the full extent of the unavailable content without a proper full-length analysis, but a couple things did stand out to me:

  • Netflix originals aren’t immune. Netflix’s “House of Cards” and “The Lost Kingdom” were just two Netflix originals I observed were unavailable to stream.
  • New Sony movies, that came to Netflix this year after their theatrical and home-entertainment windows as part of a deal between the companies, were also locked. They included “Uncharted,” “Morbius,” and “Father Stu.”

If you want to watch any of that content, you’d have to upgrade to a more expensive, ad-free plan. Here’s what pops up if you try to watch a “locked” title:

I tried Netflix's new cheaper plan with ads to see what it's like — here's what is different
Netflix

Now let’s get to the actual ads. I started watching a few different titles — from Netflix’s animated series “Big Mouth” to the hour-long drama “Walking Dead” — for a quick sense of what they were like.

The common experience was 30 seconds of ads to start, and then a minute worth of ads every 10-20 minutes or so, give or take. In total, there seemed to be at least two minutes and 30 seconds worth of ads per episode.

I tested out a few Netflix original movies, too, including “Army of the Dead,” The Irishman,” and “Red Notice.” They only include a 30-second ad at the start of the movie.

For a licensed title like “Gladiator,” there were only a few sets of ads in the first hour of the movie, and then no ads for the remainder of it.

Some of the ads I saw included Target, Luis Vuitton, Best Western, Booking.com, and the upcoming movie “She Said.”

I tried Netflix's new cheaper plan with ads to see what it's like — here's what is different
A Booking.com ad on Netflix during “The Crown,” featuring Idris Elba.Netflix

I also noticed that not every title had ads. Shows like “Breaking Bad, “Better Call Saul,” “Seinfeld,” and “Grey’s Anatomy” didn’t have any ads (I tried a few different episodes in various seasons), nor did a movie like “The Other Guys.”

Needless to say, the ad experience was varied. And it seems like it could be varied from user to user right now. Variety noted that shows like “The Crown,” “Breaking Bad,” “Cobra Kai,” and more were unavailable on Thursday, but I could access them (notably, those were all produced by Sony).

Maybe Netflix is still working out the kinks. I reached out to Netflix for clarification but did not immediately hear back.

Oh, and if you’re using Netflix on a desktop and switch to another tab during an ad, the video will pause. They want you to watch!

I will personally stick with an ad-free plan. But for someone seeking a cheaper option and doesn’t mind ads — and isn’t in a rush to watch “Morbius” — Netflix’s new offering could be for you.

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