Netflix's Upcoming Ad-Tier Might Not Let You Download Shows

Code found in the iPhone version of the app shows Netflix might restrict upcoming ad-tier users from watching content offline.

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A phone with the word folder at the top of the screen holding both the Netflix and Microsoft app icons.
Netflix announced earlier this year they were teaming up with Microsoft to craft its ad-based subscription tier.
Photo: Koshiro K (Shutterstock)

“Would that it were so simple,” the young, aspiring western actor Hobie Doyle mouths in the Coen brothers film Hail, Caesar! He struggles endlessly to portray a style of high-society speech far away from his roots as a simple good ol’ boy. Hail, Caesar! is currently watchable on Netflix, though recent reports show that if the streaming service goes ahead with its ad-supported subscription tier, you won’t be able to download those movies for offline viewing on the go. “Would that it were so simple,” indeed.

Steve Moser, a iOS developer and tech blogger, first discovered text in the app that points to plans to limit offline viewing, and posted that info to his blog late Tuesday. App description text reportedly reads:

“Downloads available on all plans except Netflix with ads.”

In addition, the streaming company apparently wants to ask pertinent questions related to giving users “relevant ads.” It’s unclear if this means a form of targeted advertising, or something else.

“Now, let’s set up your ad experience.

We just need a few details to make sure you get the most relevant ads on Netflix. It’ll be really quick, we promise!”

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Netflix declined to comment on the story. In a statement a spokesperson said: “We are still in the early days of deciding how to launch a lower priced, ad supported option and no decisions have been made. So this is all just speculation at this point.”

Other streaming services like Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video let you download movies for offline viewing, though you’re restricted from downloading movies on ad-based tiers on services like HBO Max (soon to be combined with Discovery+).

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Netflix’s ad-based tier might come out early next year, though the company has yet to set a firm date on that release. Of course, being months away, plans could change. We still do not have an idea of how the ad-based subscription tier will be priced compared to the other, likely more expensive non-ad based tiers. Just recently, Disney+ revealed that its new ad-based tiers would be effectively taking over the price point of the older, ad-free packages. If you want to watch The Mandalorian without being routinely interrupted, you’ll have to fork over a few extra bucks.

In Netflix’s latest earnings call, Greg Peters, chief product officer, said they want the ad experience to be “fundamentally different” than other streaming services, and he also didn’t elaborate on whether there might be more than one ad-based tier.

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Earlier this year, the streaming company announced they had tapped Microsoft to head up its advertising offerings. What kinds of “innovations” Microsoft could give Netflix in terms of ads is anyone’s guess, but company executives keep talking of wanting to be different from other streaming services offering cheaper ad-based subscriptions. Microsoft had acquired the advertising technology company Xandr back in June, which promises to connect “marketers and media owners through first-party, data-led advertising.” Though as pointed out by Forbes, Netflix does not like sharing its users data and viewership stats with any outsiders (not even the people who are making the shows). This means Microsoft and Xandr need to be extra careful with how it uses user data, which is why it’s interesting to see Netflix apparently planning to ask users its own set of questions, likely to best show relevant ads.

Of course, a way to beat the system is to have Netflix show you ads for things you have absolutely no interest in, helping you tune out and ignore the rampant blasts of marketing screaming at you from your TV or device. It’s not fun having to do 4D chess with marketers to avoid being manipulated into buying products, but that’s where we are.