Netflix’s ad tier is here. And we have no bad words. Literally … because Bad Words is one of the unavailable titles.
If you’ve been living under a rock—specifically a rock that doesn’t get Wifi—Netflix rolled out its lower-priced ad tier, Basic with Ads, on Thursday, adorning the top of its sign-up page with a banner announcing the $6.99 per month plan.
With the launch, the streamer has delivered on its accelerated ad tier timeline, beating Disney+’s upcoming tier to market by a month and coming in at $1 below the offering from the House of Mouse.
To date, Netflix’s lower-priced tier has rolled out in around one dozen countries, including the U.S., Canada and the U.K., delivering much of the same functionality as the streamer’s Basic tier, including the HD (720p) resolution and ability to watch across various devices such as computers, TVs and phones. However, unlike the Basic tier, Basic with Ads doesn’t allow viewers to download shows and movies.
The tier also collects a subscriber’s date of birth and gender information at sign-up. In addition to the basic demographic data, Netflix uses general location info based on IP addresses to better personalize (a.k.a. target) the ad experience.
The overall experience
Prior to launch, Netflix announced its ad loads would come in around four to five minutes, with 30- and 15-second pre-roll and mid-roll spots, using its internal content tagging team to find natural break points within programs to avoid disruption.
Though there were initial concerns from consumers about the Netflix ad experience, as the content was never necessarily built to have ads, Adweek didn’t notice any trouble with the ad playback while using the platform. Ad breaks generally came during scene breaks, thereby not being overly distracting from the show or movie. Also, there are no pause ads or post-roll spots.
During the nearly 50-minute first episode of Stranger Things, we had a 30-second pre-roll ad followed by three different ad breaks coming towards the middle and the end of the Netflix pilot. Pods generally ranged from two to four ads, with a mix of 15-second and 30-second spots. A button was also available on the screen to flag issues such as buffering or audio problems.
And when Netflix says it’s delivering four minutes of ads an hour, it means it. After ignoring the episode to watch all the ad pods (sorry, Stranger Things), we noticed the service stopped delivering ads after we met the required time. Though the Stranger Things pilot had three ad breaks, the next episode had only two. After clicking through the pods again, further episodes didn’t have ads.
Some of us chose to hurt our own feelings and check out some of Netflix’s newest content. In a 50-minute episode of the drama From Scratch, we had a similar experience to Stranger Things. The first episode we watched had a 30-second pre-roll followed by three different ad breaks, each with three spots. But the second episode we queued up only had one ad break with two spots, and remained commercial-free throughout the rest of the episode.
Ads can’t be skipped or fast-forwarded, but they can be paused. And though screenshots don’t work on Netflix’s content while watching on the ad tier, you can take screenshots of the ads.
As a hack, it’s worth noting that if you click through the pods in any given episode, you can scroll back to the beginning of the episode and watch ad-free. Additionally, kids’ profiles don’t have ads. So by watching in a kid’s profile, subscribers can see family-focused entertainment, including Hotel Transylvania 2, Naruto and Nailed It, without any ads.
The streamer notes on its FAQ page that Netflix games also don’t have ads.
The brands to watch for
Industry insiders previously told Adweek that the streamer was enforcing strict frequency caps, with ads playing once per hour or three times per day per household for any particular creative (meaning a brand running multiple creatives might be seen more frequently).
That seemingly held up for Adweek. Despite watching various shows across two different devices at different times of the day, we weren’t served a particular creative more than three times. Those brands included a Tiffany & Co. spot featuring Beyoncé, Carnival’s Funderstruck campaign, Apartments.com with Jeff Goldblum and Best Western ads.
Other brands appearing on our screens included Cadillac, Prada ads featuring Emma Watson, Beats headphones, Google Pixel, Nyx, Booking.com ads with Idris Elba, Bulgari featuring Anne Hathaway and Zendaya, Buick, Target, Cerave, Chevy, GMC Denali, Sleep Number, L’Oréal, Duracell and Dolce & Gabbana.
A couple of spots for competing content also appeared. CBS is advertising its freshman drama series Fire Country, and Universal Pictures bought inventory for its biographical drama film She Said.
With a wide array of brands, it’s clear several advertisers prioritized appearing on the platform despite Netflix’s initially limited targeting capabilities. However, the streamer has also said third-party measurement and brand integrations would be forthcoming. That includes an agreement with Nielsen, kicking in “sometime” in 2023.
Netflix had previously said its targeting capabilities include country and genre, as well as limited brand safety options. And while a Zoe Saldaña limited series is certainly brand safe, we were a little jarred to see a Michelob Ultra commercial while actively ugly-crying immediately following a heart-wrenching plot twist.
What’s not included
Before its launch, Netflix announced that 5% to 10% of titles wouldn’t be included as the streamer works out licensing deals. These titles still appear on Netflix’s platform, but they feature a lock on the thumbnail, telling subscribers they can’t be viewed.
We found more than 250 titles that were unavailable on Netflix, including some of the streamer’s biggest draws.
In terms of series, Peaky Blinders, New Girl, The Magicians, The Good Place, Arrested Development, Friday Night Lights and Gabby’s Dollhouse were locked on the U.S. version of the platform.
The film list is even more extensive. A Knight’s Tale, Bad Words, The Bad Guys, James Bond films such as Skyfall, Darkest Hour, The Danish Girl, Father Stu, Labyrinth, It Follows and—tragically—Paddington were among the titles that were unavailable.
See our complete list of titles unavailable on Netflix‘s ad tier.
Despite its quick timeline, Netflix delivers on its promises of a low ad load, frequency caps and a smooth playback experience. Subscribers can find value, and, as of launch, there are even a few tricks to get around ads altogether.
However, it remains to be seen how long those ad tricks will last. After all, Netflix is looking to constantly improve its ad tier performance, noting on its FAQ page that the offering will “evolve” over time.
At the end of the day, the streamer’s ad tier clearly wasn’t built on a house of cards (mainly because House of Cards isn’t available either).