Netflix's first ad-supported plan launched at the end of last year, and it's fair to say we didn't exactly love it. However, Netflix has heeded our advice that it needed to get better fast, because the company has announced two great upgrades to the 'Basic with Ads plan': a bump in video quality, and the ability to stream to two devices at once.
In its earning report (via FlatpanelsHD), Netflix said: "this month we’ll upgrade the feature set of our ads plan to include 1080p versus 720p video quality and two concurrent streams in all 12 ads markets – starting with Canada and Spain today."
So we expect the improvements to land everywhere that has ads before the end of April, though it's obviously possible that it could slip to early May. Uptake for the new ads-based plan seems to have been slow, with Netflix promising that it would increase the number of people who sign up to it – and these changes appear to be part of that.
Right now, Netflix Basic with Ads only lets you watch shows in 720p HD, and you can only watch Netflix on one device at a time, so if parents are watching a movie downstairs, kids can't watch anything on their tablet upstairs.
Now, you'll be able to watch in 1080p Full HD, which means you get more than double the number of pixels, so the picture is noticeably more detailed, and much easier for the best 4K TVs to upscale so content looks good in 4K, despite not being Ultra HD originally.
But the ability to have two devices streaming simultaneously is probably the more important change, since it adds that flexibility to let people in different parts of the house watch different things at the same time.
Analysis: more ads are probably coming
Other limitations of the ad-based tier remain, though: no 4K, no HDR, no downloading to your phone to watch on-the-go, and some movies and shows won't be available to you… plus, of course, you have to put up with ads.
We suspect that Netflix is thinking of killing its non-ads 'Basic' tier after these changes, since we already noted that it really doesn't want you to sign up to it, and now the ads-based version is actually better than the non-ads one in some ways.
Netflix hasn't said whether it might update its other plans, now that it's changing its cheapest one, but it said in the earnings report that the ads plan makes more money per subscriber than its Standard plan does, which is partly why it added new features: "In the US for instance, our ads plan already has a total [average revenue per membership] (subscription + ads) greater than our Standard plan."
Does this mean it might upgrade the Standard plan to make it a more distinct offering? Or introduce an ads-based higher-tier than includes 4K HDR and other features? There's no word on that for now, but based on this info, it's surely in the works.
One thing Netflix has made clear is that that paid password sharing is part of its plans, though, and we now know more about when the Netflix password-sharing will actually happen – and it's soon.