Ads Are Taking Over Streaming, and I Can’t Afford to Look Away

I reluctantly accept that advertising has to exist. People have to make a living. If you aren’t willing to pay for your service, podcast, mobile game, or article, like this one, then you have to expect some advertisements. 

Most of us are comfortable making this devil’s bargain, even though no one really likes ads (well, almost no one). We already know that young adults are more likely to have a poor diet if exposed to energy-dense, nutrient-poor food advertising. Advertising has a toxic effect on body image. In general, ads make everyone unhappier

That’s why so many of us are all too happy to pay to avoid them. But that’s getting harder and harder to do. More providers push “ad-supported tiers,” where the service is merely cheaper if you include ads. The harder we work to avoid them, the harder advertisers work to saturate our screens. The relentless creep is exhausting. If you can’t afford to pay, you and your children will be exposed to more and more of them.

Held Hostage

Saturday is family movie night in our house. We fire up the popcorn, negotiate spots on the couch, and cozy up together for some cinematic magic. There’s often a big premiere on NOW TV, Sky’s streaming service in the UK. But a few months ago, it began to show ads before content unless you upgraded to NOW Boost at £5 per month (this is also required to get HD quality).

I felt blackmailed. They kidnapped our family movie night to demand a ransom. Cough up more cash, or we ruin your streaming experience. Before the first ad’s golden arches had faded from the screen, my kids were angling for a McDonald’s visit. 

Our American readers are not immune to this trend. In the United States, HBO Max offered a “with ads” plan for $10 per month and an ads-free plan for an extra $5. The cost-cutters at Warner Bros. Discovery plan to merge HBO Max with Discovery+, another service with commercials in its $5 per month Ad-Lite plan. You have to pay an extra $2 per month to “upgrade” to a no-ads streaming experience.

You already have to pay extra for Hulu ($7 and $13, respectively). Disney+ and Netflix are planning to introduce ad-supported tiers this year. Others will surely follow suit. My youngest loves Disney movies and my eldest is obsessed with Stranger Things, but something has got to give. There’s no way to protect them from ads without cutting one of these cords. The rollout of ads is just the latest in a long line of reasons we are falling out of love with streaming.

Ads aren’t just invading our TVs. When my kids are on their computers or phones, they often have YouTubers keeping them company. So I subscribed to YouTube Premium, for which we pay £18 per month for the family to get rid of ads. We barely use it for music, though, because we are long-term Spotify Premium subscribers, again largely to avoid ads (£17 per month for the family). Google has been trialing Premium Lite in some European countries, which removes ads from videos for €7 a month. We would switch to that if only it were available here.

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