Free Netflix: Streamer Reportedly Discussing Free Version With Ads

Netflix has reportedly discussed offering a free, ad-supported version in some countries.

"Engagement is the key to success in streaming." That's what Bela Bajaria, Netflix's Chief Content Officer, said during the streamer's 2024 upfront presentation, where Netflix touted its service to advertisers after launching its lower-priced, ad-supported plan in 2022. But how does the service — which had 270 million subscribers worldwide as of May 2024 — attract and engage even more would-be customers? The answer could be free Netflix with ads in some markets.

Netflix has discussed making a free version of its streaming service available in markets like Europe and Asia to further "increase its audience," according to Bloomberg, which notes there are currently no plans for free Netflix anywhere in the world. That includes the US, although executives are reportedly talking about offering a free Netflix in markets with popular free TV networks where it also sells ads, like Germany and Japan.

If Netflix expanded into the FAST (free ad-supported television) space, the streamer could reach viewers who are unable or unwilling to pay its monthly subscription fee (currently, the lowest-priced plan is the standard with ads tier for $6.99/mo in the US). A potential free version would presumably exclude access to bigger hits like Stranger Things, Wednesday, Squid Game, and Avatar: The Last Airbender after Netflix locked some of its most popular shows — including House of Cards and Arrested Development behind a paywall due to licensing agreements when it premiered the less-expensive ad tier in late 2022.

While Netflix is the most-subscribed streaming service, its video ad sales pale in comparison to YouTube (nearly $15 billion) and rivals like Disney (about $10 billion) and Paramount (about $8 billion), according to Bloomberg. At the Netflix upfronts in May, the streamer reported that Netflix's ad-supported plan now has 40 million global monthly active users (up from 5 million in 2023), and that over 40% of all signups in the ads countries now come from the ads plan. (Last year, Netflix saw an increase in sign-ups after cracking down on password-sharing and introducing its cheaper ad-supported tier.)

It has been reported that Tubi — the Fox-owned ad-supported streaming service that offers free movies and TV shows — outpaced Disney+ in popularity in the US, according to Nielsen, with an average audience of 1 million viewers in May. PlutoTV is another FAST offering that offers thousands of free movies and TV shows without a subscription or a login that has seen growth as streamers like Netflix continue to hike prices.

"Our audiences are highly engaged — and by engaged I mean that they are choosing to spend their time watching Netflix," Bajaria told advertisers during Netflix's upfronts. "That's important because engagement is the key to success in streaming. When people watch our shows and movies, they get more value from Netflix, they stick around longer, and they're more likely to recommend us to their friends. And this matters to all of you because you want to be where the audiences are, too." In 2023, Netflix members watched 183 billion hours of Netflix, according to the company.