Code in the Netflix app suggests the ad-supported version may have a drawback

If you thought ad-supported Netflix would just be the regular service with some commercial breaks, then I regret to inform you you were wrong. According to language in the code of the Netflix app, discovered by developer Steve Moser and shared with Bloomberg, Netflix may limit offline downloads to the ad-free tiers of Netflix.

Currently, Netflix has three tiers. For $9.99 a month, you get standard definition content and the ability to watch TV on one screen at a time. Pay $14.99 a month and you get HD and the ability to watch on two screens at a time. If you want to watch everything in UHD (with 4K and HDR), you’ll have to pay $19.99. You’ll also be able to watch on four screens at a time.

It’s not really a surprise Netflix would consider gatekeeping offline downloads to people paying for the ad-free version of the service. Earlier this year co-CEO Ted Sarandos said that the ad-supported tier wouldn’t include all the same content as the ad-free one, and ad-supported tiers are intended to be a gateway tier that gives people a taste at a lower price. And there’s the difficulty of serving ads on offline content. It’s not an impossible challenge, but it’s a tricky one. Besides, Netflix already puts other stuff behind paywalls that could be standard. I pay $19.99 a month for Netflix so I can get the most out of my very nice 4K TV with support for multiple forms of HDR — not because I need to be able to watch four streams at once.

But historically, Netflix hasn’t treated offline downloads as a perk. Back in 2016, when Netflix finally started allowing offline downloads, Sarandos told CNBC it was to support emerging markets where Wi-Fi was spotty. At the time, Netflix was already late to offline viewing. Amazon Prime had been allowing you to download stuff you wanted to watch later for years. One would assume the people not yet subscribing to Netflix cite reasons besides price — like spotty internet.

In July, Microsoft announced it would be Netflix’s ad tech and sales partner — effectively providing the infrastructure to serve ads on the new tier. The new ad-supported tier for Netflix is expected to launch in 2023. We’ve reached out to Netflix for comment and will update if we hear back.