I tried Netflix with ads, so you don't have to. Or at least that's the mood I'm in after spending the better part of an evening with Netflix Basic with Ads, its new $6.99 / £4.99 / CA $5.99 / AU $6.99 per month ad-supported tier.
Full disclosure, I'm not going to pay for this trial — I'm going to expense it. What I did give, though, was my time to downgrade the experience of watching one of the best Netflix shows, one I've only recently started to watch. The Crown, I've discovered, is great. On the downside, Netflix with ads kinda ruined my watching experience, and not just in the obvious way you might expect.
At the same time, Netflix with ads also feels half-baked. I quickly found some missing titles, including some of the best shows on Netflix. The good news, though, is that there didn't seem to be too many ads. Four or five minutes per hour, which is better than broadcast TV. Also, unlike on Hulu, there were no ads when I paused a show.
That said, I do not recommend Netflix with ads, and here's why:
Netflix with ads kills the mood
While watching episode 2 of The Crown, I quickly noted the little yellow marks on the timeline of the show, which represented the ads. And at first, I almost forgot I was downgraded to 720p — yes, Netflix with ads is only available as Netflix Basic with Ads. You can't get Netflix Standard or Premium with Ads to discount a 1080p or 4K UHD membership.
The visual fidelity loss wasn't obvious until later scenes in the episode. So when Vanessa Kirby's Princess Margaret went off on a galloping horse, moving faster than those before, I started to notice visual artifacts (akin to glitches, but more forgivable) that were due to the 720p stream. If you're worried it could have been my Wi-Fi, I watched Netflix with ads on a PS5 that's hard-wired to my router to ensure stability (and tested 4K Netflix on that same console hours earlier).
The downgrade became more obvious during a scene where John Lithgow's Winston Churchill was up at night worrying about his address to the public, following King George VI's death. The light cast upon walls in that dimly lit room created more pixely splotching, which I also saw in the scene where Claire Foy's to-be-Queen Elizabeth II was asked about possibly changing her name.
But the biggest problem I had was how jarring the ad-breaks were. Netflix Originals are not made for ads, and The Crown's second episode is perfect proof. They came in-between scene-cuts, which is good, but they still didn't fit at all. For example, everyone was reacting to the death of King George, and the second Martin Charteris (Harry Hadden-Paton) ran out of a room and hopped into a car, a Chevy Silverado ad played. The volume jump, and the tonal change, were simply jarring.
Later, when Elizabeth's plane was flying out of Nairobi, and a child was chanting in Swahili, another ad jumped in. This time, a Bud Light ad, blasting "You Sexy Thing" by the British funk group Hot Chocolate played.
Sometimes, Netflix with ads doesn't even give you ads
Netflix with ads admittedly makes more sense for snackable TV, such as sitcoms. So, I drew up the other show I'm watching these days: Community.
Hilariously, the Community episodes I watched (episodes 2 and 3) both didn't have any ad breaks. Not giving up there, I turned on the first Seinfeld episode (making a new Netflix account for this meant all my progress was lost). That didn't have ads either.
So, thanks, Netflix. I guess this is something they'll fix as they continue to sell more ads to TV shows.
Netflix with ads' missing shows need to be fixed
Some shows and movies are still in negotiation, as the Wall Street Journal reported (opens in new tab). This is only obvious once you happen upon a show you want to watch, only to find a little red lock icon in its tile.
The most frustratingly locked title of them all, at least for me, was The Good Place. Again, a show made with ad-breaks isn't working in Netflix with ads. Even Netflix Original House of Cards (which is distributed Sony Pictures Television) is missing.
Arrested Development is also not there. That's a shame for the early seasons. Select movies, such as stoner action flick Pineapple Express and comedic drama 28 Days are also missing.
Variety reported that five to 10% of titles (depending on your country) are supposed to be missing at the time of launch. This is obvious a small amount, but kinda kills the whole on-demand-buffet nature that Netflix is rooted in.
Outlook: Netflix with ads won't be for everyone
Right now, Netflix with ads has three problems. The most annoying, I'd say, is how some shows and movies are missing. This will likely be fixed in time. The next up is the fact that you need to downgrade to 720p to watch it.
As for the poor ad placement. I think that will be impossible to fix for some shows. Hopefully, Netflix can figure something out. Maybe run a bulk of ads up front, and none in the middle? Right now, I don't see myself going back to Netflix with ads.
Next: These are the 5 HBO Max shows you need to watch right now and these are the 7 best new Prime Video movies that are 90% or higher on Rotten Tomatoes.