Starting price: $9.99 per month
Supported devices: Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Smart TVs, web browsers, iPhones and iPads, Android phones and tablets, Chromecast
Simultaneous streams: 1 ($8.99 plan), 2 ($12.99 plan) and 4 ($15.99 plan)
Netflix is an almost ubiquitous presence in most people's lives, if they consume entertainment. Over nearly a quarter century, Netflix has become one of the most well-known entertainment brands in history. It's even inspired new language: phrases like "Netflix and chill," and "the Netflix effect."
Since launching its streaming service in 2012, Netflix has grown into a behemoth media company with over 167 million subscribers worldwide. It revolutionized the entertainment media landscape and completely upended the TV industry. Most media corporations have or are planning to introduce their own streaming services in order to compete.
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Netflix also changed the game when it comes to content, pouring millions of dollars into producing original shows and movies. This fall alone will debut Rob Zombie's reboot of The Munsters and a Tim Burton take on The Addams Family. It's even become an Oscar contender, with original films Roma, Marriage Story and The Irishman garnering Best Picture nominations.
Here's everything you need to know about Netflix.
Netflix: What is it and how does it work?
Netflix started in 1997 as a DVD rental business, sending subscribers DVD discs through the mail in bright-red envelopes. In 2007, the company expanded by launching an OTT streaming service. "Over the top" services come through the internet, rather than on a cable or phone company's dedicated line.
In 2012, Netflix further evolved its business model by offering original content exclusive to its subscribers. These originals included international series that Netflix imported to U.S. viewers (like Lilyhammer) as well as American shows specially produced for and ordered by Netflix (like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black).
Netflix stores a huge library of content that includes movies and TV shows across many genres, from crime dramas to animated comedies to nature documentaries to children's programming. The company works with internet service providers to ensure fast and smooth delivery of this content to your television or other streaming device.
Netflix plans and pricing
Netflix offers three monthly subscription plans, which have a range of simultaneous streams and different levels of video resolution. Unfortunately, Netflix pricing has a way of going up.
Basic Plan ($9.99): Limited to a single screen at a time and standard definition (SD) resolution.
Standard ($15.49): Users can watch on two screens at a time in high definition (HD).
Premium ($19.99): Four simultaneous streams with content in HD and 4K Ultra HD, if available.
In the U.S., Netflix still continues to offer monthly plans with DVDs by mail, accessible at dvd.netflix.com (opens in new tab). Here are the DVD delivery plans:
Standard ($7.99 for DVDs, $9.99 for Blu-ray): Subscribers get one disc at a time for an unlimited amount of time. Once they return the disc, Netflix sends the next title in the queue.
Premier ($11.99 for DVDs, $14.99 for Blu-ray): Subscribers get two discs at a time, also for an unlimited amount of time.
Netflix content: Library and license deals
Netflix boasts an enormous library of content, which is made up of movies and shows that it has licensed from other media companies as well as originals that are exclusive to Netflix.
Netflix has licensed content from all the major studios, including Warner Bros., Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Sony, Universal Pictures and more. Those deals are fluctuating, however; especially now that many of these companies now or will soon have their own streaming services.
The licensing deals have been good for both Netflix and the studios/production companies. For instance, Netflix acquired the rights to Breaking Bad from Sony Pictures Television in 2010, when the show was a critical darling but not widely watched. The cable network, AMC, was considering canceling it. Sony pushed Netflix to stream the first three seasons in advance of the Season 4 premiere. That exposed the series to more people, and by the time Breaking Bad Season 5 aired, the show's viewership had doubled. Breaking Bad is considered the first recipient of the so-called "Netflix effect."
Netflix also licenses movies and shows from around the world. In some cases, these titles are presented as Netflix originals. Read on for more about that.
Netflix movies and shows: Original programming
In 2012, Netflix began rolling out originals. The first was Lilyhammer, a Norwegian drama that the streamer rolled out to American viewers as an exclusive. Next came House of Cards, which Netflix ordered after winning a bidding war against HBO, Showtime and AMC.
Since then, Netflix has released dozens of original shows and movies. It partnered with Marvel to release five superhero series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Defenders). Recent popular dramas include The Witcher, The Umbrella Academy and Altered Carbon.
On the comedy side, Netflix released Orange Is the New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, BoJack Horseman, GLOW, Sex Education and more. Netflix has also signed deals for standup comedy specials from top comedians including Dave Chappelle, Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart and Seth Meyers.
And Netflix also releases quite a lot of original content for kids, like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power; Voltron: Legendary Defender; Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia; and Fast & Furious Spy Racers.
And as an FYI: here's our Stranger Things season 4 review roundup — it's darker, scarier and a must-watch.
Netflix devices: What's it available on?
Netflix can be accessed via web browsers on your computer or via the app on most major devices, such as television sets and mobile phones. Here are the devices you can use to watch Netflix:
- Web browsers on PC and Mac
- iOS mobile devices
- Android mobile devices
- Apple TV
- Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets
- Smart TVs (most manufacturers)
- Game consoles (Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo, etc.)
- Set-top cable boxes (check with your provider)
- Blu-ray players (most manufacturers)
Netflix streaming requirements: How fast should my internet speed be to stream?
Netflix helpfully offers these guidelines about the internet speed required to watch content on its platform.
- 0.5 Megabits per second - Required broadband connection speed
- 1.5 Megabits per second - Recommended broadband connection speed
- 3.0 Megabits per second - Recommended for SD quality
- 5.0 Megabits per second - Recommended for HD quality
- 25 Megabits per second - Recommended for Ultra HD quality
Netflix ads: Does it have commercials?
Netflix is famously commercial free. The service makes money off its subscriptions.
Netflix membership: How do I cancel?
Go to your Netflix account page and click the Cancel Membership button. You can continue watching Netflix until the end of the current billing period.
Netflix keeps your viewing activity for 10 months, so if you cancel and then decide to return to the service, you can pick up right where you left off.
Netflix vs. the rest: How does it compare to Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus?
Netflix's main competitors in the streaming on-demand space are Hulu, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus. All three offer large libraries of content as well as original programming.
Hulu's basic plan costs $5.99 per month, but you'll have to sit through commercials. Amazon Prime Video comes with a Prime subscription, which is $119 per year ($9.92 per month). And Disney Plus costs $6.99 a month for ad-free access to its family-friendly trove of movies and shows, as well as online exclusives like The Mandalorian and upcoming Marvel series The Falcon and Winter Soldier, and WandaVision.