Is a Netflix Subscription Worth the Cost?

netflix subscription
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With a library filled with thousands of titles and a trophy room filled with Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Golden Globes, Netflix is an undeniably tempting draw — but it’s not a charity. Does unlimited access to the movies and shows offered by Netflix justify the cost of a subscription, and with all the other monthly obligations, is Netflix worth it?

That, of course, depends on you, your budget, your streaming habits, and whether or not you already subscribe to one of Netflix’s many competitors. Only you know if Netflix’s impressive catalog of content is worth the cost of joining. Here’s what you need to consider before you decide.

Netflix Is the King of Streaming

With 204 million subscribers, Netflix is the biggest streaming service without any close second. The No. 2 service, Amazon Prime Video, is tens of millions of subscribers behind with only 150 million paying customers. No. 3 Disney+ claims fewer than 90 million subscribers. In all, Netflix accounts for more than one-third of all U.S. streaming.

Netflix Satisfies the Industry Standard

Netflix checks most of the boxes that people have come to expect from streaming services. With Netflix:

Make Your Money Work for You
  • You can downgrade and upgrade to a different plan at any time.
  • You can download shows and movies so you can watch without Wi-Fi.
  • There are no contracts and no commitments — cancel anytime.
  • You get unlimited viewing on all devices.

One benefit of Netflix that not all other services can claim is that there are no commercials or ads with any plan.

It’s Purely a Lite Streaming Service

As CNBC points out, the Netflix catalog is well curated and incredibly diverse. Junk food docs like “Tiger King,” for example, have been hugely popular, but there are also prestige dramas like “The Crown” and game shows like “Floor Is Lava.”

But Netflix is simply not designed for cord-cutters looking to replace cable and live TV. There is no news, no sports, no tree lighting, no Thanksgiving Day parade, no Super Bowl, no Oscars, no live events of any kind, and no channel-surfing.

Prices Went Up — Is Netflix Worth It?

Just before the new year, Netflix raised its prices by $1 for the cheapest plan and by $2 each for the standard and premium versions. It’s not unusual. Disney+ and Hulu raised prices around the same time, and inflation, of course, forces everyone to raise prices eventually. Over time, however, Netflix has been able to keep its subscription prices low by consistently adding new subscribers, according to CNBC.

There are three subscription tiers:

  • Basic: $8.99 per month
    One stream, standard def at 480p
  • Standard: $13.99 per month
    Two simultaneous streams, high def at 1080p
  • Premium: $17.99 per month
    Four simultaneous streams, 4K+HDR

As Prices Rose, the Catalog Shrank

Even though the cost of subscription went up, Netflix subscribers now have far fewer titles to choose from than they did in years past. That, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

According to Politico’s tech and media publication Protocol, Netflix’s catalog is shrinking by design. When Netflix was just getting started, it was forced to license hundreds of titles at the same time through bulk catalogs. Netflix is a far more mature service now and it’s shifted to a quality-over-quantity philosophy, cleaned out the clutter, and let many of those junky bulk licenses expire.

Prime’s Movie Library Is More Massive, but Size Isn’t Everything

In terms of movies, Amazon Prime blows away all other streaming services by a mile. Prime Video has 1.5 times the movies of all of its major competitors combined, including Netflix — a whopping 13,845 titles in total. But it’s just not a fair comparison. Prime Video is the only service that allows self-publishing, which opens the door to indie studios, but also to just about anyone else. Prime Video is flooded with amateurish tutorials and other content that can’t reasonably be counted as “movies” and would never in a thousand years find their way onto Disney+, Hulu or HBO Max.

Make Your Money Work for You

After Prime, Netflix crushes the competition. Its 3,850 movies are hundreds of times more numerous than Apple TV+. It has more than twice as many movies as its next-closest competitor, HBO Max, which has 1,844 movies.

Netflix’s TV Catalog Is as Impressive as Its Stable of Movies

With TV shows, too, Prime is king, but only by a little bit. Prime Video and Netflix are the only two services with more than 2,000 shows, and Prime Video only beats Netflix by fewer than 200 titles. Hulu has fewer than 1,700, and from there it craters down to 510 for HBO Max and then falls off even further.

In review, Netflix has more movies and more TV series than all of its competitors except Prime Video — far more in most cases — but Prime Video isn’t a fair comparison because people can publish content from their basements and call it a movie.

It Has the Most Original Shows by a Long Shot

Netflix has produced and released more than 460 original TV shows. That’s a mammoth number, considering that the No. 2 contender, Amazon Prime, has just 91. After that, it drops off to 55 for Hulu. Apple TV+ has only 26 shows and Disney+ has just 17.

Netflix has increased its spending on original content by 3,050% in just four years, with shows like “Stranger Things” and “The Crown” costing $12 million and $13 million to produce per episode. In total, Netflix spent $17 billion on original content in 2020, up from $13.9 billion in 2019, $13 billion in 2018, and less than $10 billion in 2017.

That Content Wins Lots of Awards

In 2013, something brand new happened that would have been deemed impossible before — a web-based TV series available only through online streaming won a Primetime Emmy. The show was “House of Cards” and the streaming service, of course, was Netflix. Its director beat out Showtime’s “Homeland,” HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Downton Abbey.”

It was a watershed moment.

That year in 2013, Netflix received 13 Primetime Emmy nominations. Three years later in 2016, Netflix received 160 nominations.

It wasn’t just the Emmys and it wasn’t just “House of Cards.” In the ensuing years, Netflix released both movies and series that were nominated for and sometimes won Golden Globes, Grammys and Academy Awards. Among them are:

  • “Roma”
  • “The Irishman”
  • “Marriage Story”
  • “Mudbound”
  • “Orange Is the New Black”
  • “The Two Popes”
  • “Making a Murderer”
  • “Stranger Things”
  • “The Queen’s Gambit”

Traveling Can Be a Pain

Much of Netflix’s content is regional and if you leave the States, you’ll notice that your library and streaming options have changed — if you’re lucky. You might find that some or all of your content is blacked out. If you’re thinking that you’ll just solve the problem by using a VPN to trick Netflix into thinking you’re still at home, think again. Netflix is having none of it and its technology is excellent at detecting most VPN services.

You Can Still Rent DVDs If You’d Like

When Netflix started out in 1997, it was a mail-order DVD rental subscription service. Although waiting for an envelope with a disc inside to arrive in the mail might seem a bit primitive now, it’s important to remember that the chief competition at that time was Blockbuster Video. With that business model, you had to show up to your local store and rent whatever it had in stock.

High-bandwidth streaming made that format irrelevant — for most. Hundreds of thousands of subscribers are still in it for the DVDs. Netflix actually still offers two different DVD mailer subscription tiers:

  • Standard: $7.99 per month for one DVD out at a time
  • Premier: $11.99 per month for two DVDs out at a time

You can include Blu-ray discs if you’d like, and you can hang on to your rental as long as you want. There are no late fees and no shipping fees, the first month is free, and you can cancel anytime.

Netflix Has Secret Search Codes

Netflix has a secret search feature that lets users scour the platform for their favorite shows and movies on a granular level. If you know the numerical codes, you can unlock all kinds of great hidden content. Netflix has tons of subgenres, but they’re not easy to find without the secret codes. Just find the subgenre you like, type the corresponding number into the search bar, and prepare to be wowed.

There are too many codes to list here, but the genre/subgenre model works like this:

  • Comedy Movies: 6548
    Romantic comedies: 5475
    Dark comedies: 869
    Teen comedies: 3519
  • Action and Adventure: 1365
    Military action and adventure movies: 2125
    Spy action and adventure movies: 10702
    Crime action and adventure movies: 9584
  • Documentaries: 6839
    Science and nature documentaries: 2595
    Historical documentaries: 5349
    Social and cultural documentaries: 3675

Good To Know

There are far too many codes and subgenres to list here, but finding them requires little more than a Google search. Just type in a string like “Netflix search codes” and voila! You’ll find that month’s list of updated codes and be ready to search like a pro.

Is It Worth It To Pay for Netflix?

For more than 200 million subscribers, Netflix is worth the cost of membership. Despite a recent increase, Netflix continues to keep its prices low. Its library of movies and TV series is bigger than that of all its major competitors except for Amazon, but unlike Prime, the Netflix library is curated, uncluttered and streamlined on a user-friendly platform.

Its original content leads the industry and includes everything from stand-up comedy to original horror series. Netflix studio productions routinely bring home major awards that until recently were reserved for the likes of HBO and the big Hollywood studios.

There are, however, some drawbacks. Netflix doesn’t offer live TV, which means it’s purely an add-on for anyone who enjoys traditional channel-surfing. It is not a cable alternative for cord-cutters and provides only a stand-alone service.

Prime Video, for example, comes as part of a bundle of services packaged into the standard Amazon Prime subscription. Hulu’s library of content and original programming is included with its live TV streaming service. Therefore, anyone who already subscribes to Prime or Hulu — or one of the many other streaming services with overlapping content — might have a hard time justifying an a la carte subscription to Netflix when looking for places to trim the household budget.

Data was compiled on March 1, 2021, and is subject to change.

Our in-house research team and on-site financial experts work together to create content that’s accurate, impartial, and up to date. We fact-check every single statistic, quote and fact using trusted primary resources to make sure the information we provide is correct. You can learn more about GOBankingRates’ processes and standards in our editorial policy.

About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.

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