This week Netflix announced what everyone already assumed: they have no plans to insert ads into their streaming service. This was was prompted by Xbox One users who noticed ads playing on the streaming service, and a general “non-answer” from Big Red stating that they’re always trying new things.
This news, of course, allows every one of Netflix’s many subscribers to breathe a sigh of relief, because in today’s age ads = bad, and that will likely never change, ever. After all, for one-third the price of a Blu-ray - which have ads, many unskippable - per month, the service should continue to remain the pure buffet of TV and movies it has always been. But what if ads = good? Now this is when things get interesting.
To dismiss ads - or commercials - as inherently being bad is to completely go against one truth everyone agrees with: Super Bowl ads are great. You can check out our Super Bowl articles from 2013, 2014 and 2015 - all full of commercials people were excited to watch. In fact, if you don’t watch Super Bowl commercials, you're out of the pop culture loop for a week.
So it’s not that ads are good or bad; it’s more about viewers being in control of the ads - and making a conscious decision to watch them. Hulu has attempted to do something quite similar to this: asking viewers to decide which of three car commercials they least mind watching (but the strategy isn't exactly putting a lot of power in subscriber hands). Not to mention, Hulu Plus subscribers are treated to the same ads as free members - regardless of the added cost.
The Answer: Nostalgia
In the world of VOD services, there is one which is largely overlooked, despite all of its many forward-thinking ideas when it comes to ads: the WWE Network. That’s correct - the world which brought us Hulk Hogan, Undertaker, The Rock, and Chris Jericho has secretly surpassed Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go in simply thinking about its interface - and "ads" - in a different way: by using old ones.
When you watch programs via the WWE Network, you’ll sometimes see old WWE (and WWF) toy commercials from the 90s cut in during the natural breaks in programming. Like Netflix does every now and then, the WWE Network makes use of viewer time to help promote its own service - only the WWE simply has to promote WWE, whereas Netflix has to promote Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, or one of its many other original programs. The secret, it seems, is in the implementation of ads and commercials, not wholly the fact that they exist at all.
Let’s say when you log in to Netflix, you’re given the option within your profile to turn on old commercials from long ago - commercials that you’re most likely familiar with, on some level - and during your endless binge-watching, these commercials play as one episode is ending, before the next begins.
A commercial like this one (which, despite its age, also advertises a modern product):
What if watching ads like this one would ultimately lower the cost of your Netflix subscription, or give you access to the company's waining DVD rental services? Even if you’re not given any incentive or discount, precedence says some viewers will still opt-in (and that's just free money for Netflix).
In A Perfect World
If you go to YouTube and search “90s commercials,” you’ll see video after video of commercials ready for viewing - many with millions and millions of views already. Not only did viewers watch these videos, but they chose to - and as far as response goes, the comments section of each are likely the most positive you’ll see on the famed video service (with everyone reliving days of old, unaware that someone is making money off of it). So why not Netflix? Especially if there’s some way viewers can benefit from it.
As it currently stands, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is really the only original series on Netflix which makes use of its ridiculously memorable theme song to help reset viewers in-between episodes. Outside of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s groundbreaking series, every other show you attempt to binge-watch on Netflix could become draining after a few hours of continuous watching.
Whether or not binge-watching is the best way to enjoy a TV series is still up for debate - and many show creators still aren’t thrilled with everyone watching seasons all in one sitting - but the point is that there are ways to make the binge-experience much more enjoyable than it currently is. If not with nostalgic commercials from the past, then what?
Still, the whole idea of commercials on Netflix is unsettling, and the fact that the digital streaming service is likely able to obtain these olds commercials from companies at a significant discount - much like their TV shows and movies - seems to service the stockholders more than the subscribers.
However, in a perfect world of media and entertainment, synergy is the ultimate goal, and it’s hard to deny the fact that a few old commercials that viewers choose to watch is a step towards that - and honestly a step that may help temper the instant gratification that Netflix allows - instant gratification that can burn viewers out (even if they don't realize it).