After what seems like a never-ending series of price hikes, it's nice to be able to share a bit of nicer news about a streaming service. Netflix is making some changes to its ad-supported plan that'll reduce the amounts of ads you see.
Is there a catch? There is, but it's a little one. The changes are for binge viewers: if you've watched three consecutive episodes in a row, the fourth will be ad-free. Netflix has said previously that bingeing shows is a key part of its strategy so this is clearly to encourage that.
It's a little bit of good news for subscribers to the ad-based plan, including people like me who've dumped the Premium plan after the most recent Netflix price hike took it to a whopping £17.99 per month ($23 in the US).
Advertising is the current obsession of streaming services, most of which have either introduced ad-funded tiers or are intending to put ads in their previously ad-free services – such as Amazon, which has announced that it'll soon be putting "limited advertisements" into Prime Video in the UK unless you pay to remove them, which Amazon calls "a new ad-free option".
The problem for the streaming services is a pretty simple one: for years now we've been conditioned to see streaming as a low-cost, all you can eat subscription where you pay not much for a huge variety of content. And that isn't sustainable, which is why prices have been going up and advertising has been brought in.
It may make business sense. But from a consumer point of view it does look as if the streamers have collectively decided to get greedy just as their content becomes less compelling: the days when, say, a Netflix subscription got you access to what felt like all the entertainment in the world are long gone as rival streamers have emerged and kept their content to themselves instead of licensing it more widely. I don't think it's particularly controversial to say that in terms of sheer value for money, streaming isn't what it used to be.
Advertising may help that, but a problem with the ad-funded tiers is that especially in the UK, where terrestrial TV was never as ad-heavy as it was in the US, there's a thin line between what people consider acceptable and unacceptable levels of advertising. A recent YouGov survey found that 65% of Amazon Prime users already felt "bombarded by advertising", and I've noticed a definite and definitely annoying uptick in the amount and frequency of adverts on ad-funded services such as Freevee. An increase in ads could prove to be too much for some viewers.