Watch Ads, Get Paid: Is This The Future Of Ad-Supported Content?
Don’t feel like paying for Ironman? Click “Earned Pay” and your ad views will foot the bill.
Right now you’re essentially getting paid to view our ads. OK…we’re getting paid. But by serving you ads we compensate for the fact that we give you content—articles, videos and slideshows—for free. Otherwise we’d have to charge you or solicit donations like NPR. So in a very indirect way you’re getting paid—in that your ad viewing, in aggregate, makes up for that theoretical subscription charge.
Of course, it doesn’t feel like you’re getting paid. And you never explicitly agreed to such an arrangement. But how else are we supposed to give you all this stuff for free?
In a simple, ingenious way, a company called HitBliss takes this fuzzy ad-for-content model, pulls it apart and makes everything deliberate, transparent and explicit. The Lexington, Mass. company, run by husband and wife team Andrew Prihodko and Sharon Peyer, operates a Netflix-like app for iOS and Android that gives users access to a whole slew of TV shows and movies. But all that’s a sideshow; the payment method is what’s interesting here. Customers can choose to pay for shows piecemeal by credit card or they can watch 30-second ads to build up credit. After two or three ads—or a minute and half in total—most customers earn enough to buy a show or rent a movie.
The key here is agency. If I feel like shelling out $2.99 to rent the Dark Knight, I can do that. If I don’t, I can just watch two minutes of ads, then enjoy my movie without interruption. The relationship between advertising, cash and content is made crystal clear. Up front, users choose how much data they want to give up to advertisers. Giving up access to web history and search engine queries leads to more valuable, better targeted ads, which speeds up users’ accumulation of credit. Volunteering demographic info speeds it up even further. At the granular level, users can even delete individual search queries they feel uncomfortable divulging. Once again, the relationship between data and advertising is made explicit. (Advertisers only get access anonymized data. The rest stays stored in the app rather than HitBliss’ servers.)
For those earning credit via ads, commercials are queued according to value-per-second, meaning the ones that earn credit the quickest come first.
HitBliss’ Earned Pay system, where ads get lined up according to their value-per-second.
To make sure that ad-watchers are fulfilling their end of the bargain, ad plays are periodically interrupted, prompting watchers to click a button proving they’re still around. Ad prices, meanwhile, are determined by an auction marketplace–not unlike GoogleAdWords–where advertisers bid to reach different segments of the HitBliss audience. If a viewer stops watching mid-ad, they still get compensated for each second they watched. Likewise, advertisers only pay in proportion to the time viewers spend on their ads. The result is a marketplace that squeezes out inefficiencies for both parties.
Though on the surface the company appears poised to compete with Hulu or Netflix, Peyer insists that the elaborate video application is merely an effort to prove the advertising and payment model. Eventually the company hopes to apply the model to all forms of content–apps, games, words and music included. The vision is to position HitBliss as an alternative to credit cards or PayPal at the access gate for content.
Prihodko and Peyer previously founded Pixamo, a photo and video sharing website that was acquired by NameMedia in 2007. The couple, along with 24 employees, has spent the last three years perfecting the product, negotiating with studios for content and recruiting advertisers.
Peyer admits that they’ve had some trouble navigating the layers of bureaucracy needed to convince agencies and brands to shell out their ad-dollars on an unproven model. With the invitation-only launch of the application today, the company hopes to get the traction and data needed to expedite that process.w