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Tech Profile: HitBliss

By:   Date posted: May 23, 2013

hitblissWhat is HitBliss, and how did you and your team get started in this field?

HitBliss solves the problem of getting more consumers to pay for digital goods and services. Our CEO Andrew Prihodko and I founded HitBliss after starting other Internet companies where we experienced firsthand the monetization challenges in that space: Consumers were less willing to pay for digital services, so publishers had to rely on ad-supported models. Yet consumers also disliked being interrupted with ads and would often ignore them. Despite declining ad rates and growing impressions, advertisers were not getting enough of a return to justify their spending, and publishers were not generating enough revenue to continue developing and delivering stellar products.

We had a vision: unbundle advertising from content. Publishers would always charge a price for their products, making very clear to users that their content has value and must be paid for on a transactional basis. Users would have the option of paying with cash earned in HitBliss Earn as well as cash earned anywhere else.  Users would no longer be interrupted with advertising while consuming content they paid for. Advertisers would no longer be forced to use someone else’s audience as a proxy for their own. Instead of buying slots or spots or impressions within content, they would pay only for their own potential customers’ verified time and attention.

We began realizing our vision by developing two services: “HitBliss Store” and “HitBliss Earn.” Currently, the store offers top movies the day of their DVD release and TV episodes the day after they air — all for a stated retail price. We hope it will soon offer apps, games and subscriptions for a variety of services, including Internet, cable and phone.

Through HitBliss Earn, people opt to engage with targeted messages in their free time, including brand videos, games or polls. In exchange for their confirmed time and attention — which is verified through playful “gamified” checks — they earn money they can use to pay their HitBliss store bills. Users completely control their HitBliss Earn experience, including when, where and how to engage with a message. And guess what? They’re paying attention!

What trends and changes in the market led you to realize that HitBliss would fill a void? Describe the void.

Advertisers needed an effective way to reach and educate consumers. Publishers needed a way to get paid. The ad-supported model of yesterday wasn’t working to accomplish either. Our research showed that consumers are getting increasingly frustrated with having their viewing experience interrupted by commercials. They are avoiding ads in record numbers, time shifting, multitasking and just plain ignoring brand messages. At the same time, consumers don’t actually dislike advertising. We asked ourselves, “Why not unbundle advertising from content?” By allowing consumers to choose where, when and if to engage with advertisers, we provide a more attentive and valuable audience for brands. By converting their time and attention into currency that they have discretion over, we also empower consumers to pay up for a valuable, uninterrupted movie or TV viewing experience and soon other content and services.

How should the marketing/advertising industry utilize HitBliss for its clients’ brands to achieve a deeper level of engagement with users?

HitBliss Earn allows advertisers to connect with an audience that is passionate about premium online content. While our pricing is based on completed views, advertisers have the opportunity to achieve both upper- and lower-funnel objectives due to an accompanying display ad and reporting data that “connects the dots.” Beta advertisers are successfully using the platform to achieve both branding and activation goals.

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What can HitBliss’ personalization settings help brands learn about individual users? What data does it use to achieve more targeted personalization than other streaming sites like Hulu?

Advertisers can reach HitBliss Earn users based on virtually anything they do on their devices, as well as any of their demographic and location-based data. Why?  HitBliss Earn is an app that empowers users to opt in for targeted messages by letting them earn faster without giving up privacy. To date, over 85 percent of our beta users have opted in for targeting. These users have exclusive control over their personal data because it is only ever stored within the app on their own devices — not in the cloud or on HitBliss servers. Only the individual user can ever see or modify the personal information he is using for targeting purposes.

In fact, our technology is able to match messages to users without advertisers ever seeing any user’s personal/private data. If the user’s app determines that his information matches an advertiser’s target criteria, the user receives that message for consideration. If not, he doesn’t. The advertiser receives aggregate response data showing the size of the audience matching its criteria as well as how that audience subsequently chose to engage with the creative.

For example, a bank that wants to increase its loan portfolio can use HitBliss Earn to reach consumers who have been browsing specific real estate, automotive, college or home improvement sites and use a specific message for each group. It can even target people visiting competitive banks’ websites or searching for competitors’ products. As users engage with its creative, the bank can see how each group responded to the creative (complete or partial views, clicks, etc.). Brands are not limited to just advertising. HitBliss Earn also supports surveys, competitions, polls and games.

How can giving users control over the ads they see help cultivate better brand experiences?

In the advertising world, we love to talk about how the most successful brand experiences happen when you reach the right person with the right message at the right time. We built HitBliss believing that there can be no better time or message than what the user has chosen, and our beta is proving us right. Our video completion rates are well above 90 percent, and our click-through rates are correspondingly high. Consumers recognize the “social contract” our model creates between them and advertisers. As active and willing participants, they are an engaged and valuable audience.

How do you see interactive, ad-supported payment models evolving in the next three years?

In the future, HitBliss Earn will be used as a mechanism to monetize consumers — delivering them the power to buy virtually any paid service: apps, text-based articles behind paywalls, music sites, gaming sites, subscription media platforms and even their cable and satellite system bills! People who don’t want to earn additional spending power by engaging with advertising will use traditional payment methods, while advertisers will pay to engage defined audiences without wasting their budgets.

sharon-hitbliss-headshotSharon Peyer is a co-founder and vice president of business development of HitBliss. In this capacity, she oversees efforts related to the licensing of content distributed in the HitBliss store, efforts to attract third-party brands to HitBliss Earn and HitBliss’ consumer marketing efforts. From 2004 until 2007, Sharon held similar responsibilities at Pixamo, a photo sharing and social networking startup that she co-founded and successfully sold. Prior to Pixamo, Sharon worked in a variety of entrepreneurial capacities primarily within the investment and venture capital industries in the United States and Europe. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Georgetown University and a master’s degree in business administration from the Harvard Business School.

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Tarah Benner is the associate editor of The Agency Post, where she edits content, researches new technology and writes on industry trends. She's a runner, rower and avid blogger who enjoys curling up on the couch with good pizza and a movie. Her experience includes copywriting, content marketing, digital publishing and writing for the web. You can connect with her on Twitter @TarahBenner or on LinkedIn.

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