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Tl;Dr: What's the most fundamentally UX friendly equivalent to a pre-roll video advertisement which doesnt involve an actual advertisement - only a prompt to pay to remove the inconvenience?


My UX question will require knowledge first of the app model, so I'll explain it briefly, and I apologize for the length of the detail but it's not the simplest question to ask. I suspect from the above question alone, people would ask for infinite elaboration, so I'll provide it below::

I'm about to launch an app, similar to a few others out there, that allows you to stream videos together as a group in sync, while exchanging voice chat. Youtube, Vimeo, any service that supports embedding. A synchronized video experience. The model is supposed to be free, supported by pre-roll video ads.

The catch is that my app also allows people to stream video content stored locally on their devices. Home videos, videos taken on their phones, cameras, etc, can be watched as part of this synchronized video sharing experience. But, although it wont be permitted according to our terms of service, people will be able to stream movies they download from the web, perhaps illegally.

That's just an unavoidable implication of allowing people to stream local content to each-other. And so, understandably, no advertisement agency that I've spoken with can permit their ads to be used in association with this application, as there's the possibility that it unfortunately may gain a reputation for being used in association with copyright infringement - watching pirated content together.

So to support a free model, I'm interested in creating, in concept, the equivalent of advertising (a brief inconvenience for the user, which the user trades as payment for the service), which inclines the user to buy a premium membership to skip this brief inconvenience for him/her and his/her party/group watching the video together.

My question is: Is there a known method of using some inherent inconvenience to the user (other than advertising) which allows them to use the service for free, but still motivates them to potentially purchase a premium plan to remove said inconvenience?

I ask because it seems like this might give me an opportunity to use the inability to advertise as an advantage to my UX experience. Instead of having to serve the user a whole video ad that they may or may not be interested in, I can instead utilize the most fundamental equivalent to this UX interruption without time requirements or specific content being displayed. In other words, I can engineer the inconvenience to be much less damaging toward the UX than the advertisement would have been, theoretically.

I imagine this strategy might already be used in clever ways, but the closest version I can think of is the method of using "energy" in mobile apps to slow down your progress without payment - that's not what I'm looking for.

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    I think you need to be careful here. Users understand that free apps often come with crappy ads that they have to deal with or pay to get the ad free version. However if you just stall, and or put up a gimmicky blocker they know you are intentionally out to make their use miserable in an attempt to albeit gently "extort" them into paying for the usable version. Although it's a fallacy users believe that the ads are financially supporting the app so there is an acceptance level. However straight up blocking is deemed sneaky/shady and will not win you fans. – scunliffe May 18 '16 at 12:50
  • If the pre-bit is a pre-roll video, which in this case is essentially the same as an ad (its just "internal") then this is fine :-) What sucks is when you try to download a large file (legally) and its hosted on a site that makes you wait for a 45 second timer to expire before you can click the download button... or you can pay to get instant downloads. This drives users nuts... show me an ad... and/or several ads while I download... but just time blocking me is insulting. – scunliffe May 18 '16 at 13:44
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    @scunliffe I understand. Perhaps fundamentally the cause of the poor UX in the case of the raw timer (besides 45 seconds being outrageous compared to a 10-20 second video) is the fact that you're not even doing the user the courtesy of given them something to focus on during the delay. – 404success May 18 '16 at 13:46
  • @404success A good alternative to blocking for certain amount of time is to just limit the time length of videos free users can share. I.E. Free users can share videos up to 30 seconds long, premium users can share videos of any length. That way most casual users are completely unaffected but paid users get an even better experience. – DasBeasto May 18 '16 at 13:56
  • @DasBeasto That is an interesting alternative. In the realm of UX, its an interesting dynamic, deciding whether to limit certain features for free users and charge for extensions of those features. So many companies are offering totally free models, such as Google products, with such viral success, and when you limit users with hard limits, it seems to me you risk dampening the viral possibilities for your apps popularity spread. I feel that I'm far more inclined to tell a friend "Hey check out this app" if I know that app is totally free, with no paywalls. – 404success May 18 '16 at 15:35
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In software, what you are describing is generally know as a 'nag screen' - a popup or interstitial screen that the user has to dismiss in order to use the content.

The only warning I would add is that you will be walking a fine line between encouraging your users to purchase the full content and annoying them to the point where they abandon the product.

Sublime text employs a popup during the save process (every 9th or 10th save): Sublime Text Nag Screen

This is not so intrusive but just as annoying!

  • Well now that I know what it's called, I guess what I'm wanting to know is if there's a clever way to implement this in a format that embraces the fact that it's a shorter delay than an ad and manages to turn the shorter delay and control over the content used to fill the delay into a UX advantage rather than a flaw. I'm brainstorming ideas such as showing clips of trending YouTube and Vimeo videos that the party has an option to add to the queue after their video. – 404success May 18 '16 at 13:49
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    Pay for Sublime! Haha ; ) – dennislees May 18 '16 at 13:56
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    @404success Just a suggestion but how about if your software/website/app had a mascot? During the wait time the mascot could run through an animated sequence chosen at random from a bank of several so that the animation is different each time (within a limited range) - This is more likely to add charm and personality to your product... you could even add easter eggs in the form of special animations at the 100th load etc – Andrew Martin May 18 '16 at 14:00
  • @AndrewMartin I experimented with the use of mascots in a few application GUI designs a few years ago, giving them uses such as guiding through the interface but honestly, looking at the clean GUI style we're seeing in modern interfaces and especially those features in computer screen and holographic displays in popular titles such as Iron Man and Batman these past few years, I feel like users are going to gravitate twoards clean, smooth, futuristic designs which focus on simple efficiency rather than decoration such as mascots. – 404success May 18 '16 at 15:42
  • @AndrewMartin (continued) the closest I think we can get to a mascot is the equivalent to J.A.R.V.I.S. in future tech, with maybe a little icon to represent the AI's presence / action. – 404success May 18 '16 at 15:43
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You could add a countdown timer - i've seen it on some websites, or a captcha, or do something else annoying like reduce video quality.

However, these just discourage people from using your app (as do ads), and your number one problem will be getting people to use it, not making it uncomfortable enough for them to pay for an upgrade.

Your question is asking how to make a bad User Experience - the antithesis of this site, and that will harm your chances of success.

Users should pay for something better, not to remove something worse. Your competition can just offer the same experience without your unnecessary pain.

  • Alternatively, users might prefer to trade the small inconvenience for the full package, all features, that such an app has to offer rather than get some things for free and be forced to pay to use all of the features of the app. One could argue that price is an aspect of UX, and an inconvenience traded for a lower price (free) might be preferable to the majority of the target audience: Teens and young adults. Especially when the competition is covered head-to-toe in ads and paywalls for such features. – 404success May 18 '16 at 11:56
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After asking this, receiving information about this concept, and brainstorming, I'd like to mention a solution that I'm strongly considering for this problem:

A hybrid of the "nag-screen". Rather than throw a pop-up to annoy the user, or a timer to delay the user, I think the best approach is, as a gateway to the service (in my case, playing a video in sync) display useful information (in my case, a neat, simple dynamic list of videos trending on Youtube, Vimeo, etc, which can be clicked in order to be added to the queue) along with a call to subscribe in order to move, not remove, this useful information to a less intrusive area in the interface.

In my opinion, this is the best way to emulate a small delay for the user taking the place of advertisement as an incentive for the user to pay for a premium experience. This option circumvents problems with certain strategies while achieving the same goal:

  • A timer, where the user is given useful information to observe rather than being left bored

  • A nag-screen, where the user is given useful information rather than being blatantly asked to subscribe with a screen that is clearly there only to annoy you, and might even require a click to dismiss.

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