Is Netflix Really Adding Commercials? Here’s What We Know

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Netflix | Getty Images

It used to be that one of Netflix’s primary appeals was the lack of commercials, but that may change soon. Well, sort of.

According to The New York Times, Netflix is currently testing “promotional videos” that play between episodes. These videos all promote Netflix content you might enjoy, so customers still won’t have other products advertised to them, and the actual episodes will never be interrupted.

Netflix itself insists this is not a big deal and that these are not, in fact, commercials. Rather, they are simply “recommendations.”

“These video promos are actually personalized recommendations for titles we think a member may enjoy watching,” a spokesperson told The Times. “In this particular case, we are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster.”

Still, Netflix can call this whatever it wants to; the fact of the matter is, under this new system, subscribers would have their content interrupted by advertising for other content, so these would effectively be commercials. But the good news is that the videos, which last between 10 and 20 seconds, can be skipped.

To say the reaction to this has been negative would be a bit of an understatement. These commercials were rolled out this weekend to a select number of subscribers as a test, and many of them took to social media to express their displeasure with the change. On the Netflix subreddit, thousands of users commented that the day they see a commercial on Netflix, they will unsubscribe.

“That or my subscription fee better disappear completely,” one user commented. “I refuse to pay to be advertised to. I don’t subscribe to cable and Hulu for a reason (Hint: it’s the ads).”

Stranger Things Season 2 | Netflix

Stranger Things | Netflix

Subscribers can take solace in the fact that this is just a test on Netflix’s part; the streaming service has not officially announced whether this will become a permanent new feature, and given the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the test rollout, it would not be surprising if the plans were ditched altogether.

Netflix also told The Times that it would be looking at the behavior of users who have this feature rolled out to them; the company seems to be trying to determine whether showing subscribers ads for Netflix content will actually lead them to check out that content. This is key because Netflix has become increasingly focused on its own original films and TV shows, preparing for the day that it loses a lot of the content from other studios. Disney, for instance, is planning on pulling its content off of Netflix in order to launch a competing service next year. So it’s important to Netflix that it is making subscribers aware of its library of original content; that way, when this is all that’s left, they won’t feel compelled to unsubscribe.

At the same time, will users see these kinds of interruptions as a step too far, and will they consider abandoning the service entirely as a result? These are questions that will be answered should Netflix actually roll out this highly unpopular new feature on a permanent basis.