Free Trial Length for Video Subscriptions…the Long and Short of it

For as long as SVOD services have been around, so has the debate for how long and what type of free trial length for video subscriptions should be offered to maximize top-the-funnel acquisition while still converting at a high enough rate to successfully grow your subscriber base. There are many opinions on the right length of a trial and what should be required to get a trial started. The definitive answer to both of these question is…… depends.

Free Trials Work

What we do know is that offering a free trial as a vehicle for acquiring paying subscribers works well. Allowing users free access to video content for a short period of time is extremely effective in engaging them in your content offering. In an article posted by nScreenMedia, “Vimeo data shows that any online video service providers (OVSP) would be foolish not to allow free trials of the service. The company found that 60% of people that sign up for a free trial from any platform end up becoming a paying customer.”

60% of people that sign up for a free trial from any platform end up becoming a paying customer
source: nScreenMedia

While the length of the free trial may have some impact in the potential customer’s decision to give the service a try, the truth of the matter is that most customers will make the decision to buy or not within the first 24 hours of initiating a free trial. The key to running a successful subscription video service is to engage your users early and often through different techniques to develop interest and loyalty to your offering.

Many users initially sign up for a video subscription service to gain access to a particular piece of content. It could have been recommended by a friend, an ad, a social post, etc. This is oftentimes a motivated impulse purchase. So it makes sense to have a higher barrier to entry such as collecting payment information at sign up and will naturally yield a much higher conversion rate.

Optimizing Free Trial Length

The ultimate success of a video subscription is based on how well you engage the user once they are utilizing your service. This means engaging the user quickly will help them through the conversion decision and keep them in the service longer. This supports the strategy of a shorter trial period. If the customer doesn’t understand the value of the offering in the first week or two, extending the trial won’t likely change that.

A shorter trial can be beneficial for a number of reasons:

  1. It creates a sense of urgency for the end user since they know they need to invest early to determine the value of the product
  2. It helps eliminate those users that join to binge watch a specific series or piece of content then leave for another offering
  3. It reduces costs for bandwidth and royalty payments for licensed content

Proponents of a longer subscription trial will argue for giving users more time to evaluate the offering and reduce the buying pressure. However, video subscriptions are not like SaaS software offerings they are not complex and ultimately the quality of the experience and the content will win the day in the consumer’s mind.

If most customers make up their mind in the first couple of days your time and effort should be spent on:

  • creating a great onboarding experience
  • helping trial customers discover more content
  • engaging them on multiple devices

Data suggests many users may come in through a web application but ultimately will consume more content through a mobile or connected device. Vimeo’s study showed that three-quarters of all customers who signed up through the web accessed content through an app and over 50% accessed through their iPhone or Android device.

Focus on the Experience

It is important to understand what content brought someone to your service, how they access content, and what content they consume. The Wicket Scorecard provides you with that data but doesn’t stop there. You are able to drill down, look deeper at the correlations to other pieces of content, and recommend not just shows with a high correlation to the videos they were after but also shows that have high completion rates. This allows you to understand not only which shows people watched but also which shows they watched to completion. This is key in building an immersive customer experience. Demonstrating you have a deep content offering can be far more valuable and effective than having a longer free trial period as an acquisition tool.

Top titles and trial drivers

Fig. 1 – The top 10 most popular first content engagements after a new trial user begins using the service.

Having a wider funnel with fewer barriers to entry may expose a wider group of potential customers to your trial. Your valuable resources should be spent on qualifying more profitable customers that will stay in your service longer. The Wicket Scorecard will help you identify the content that is driving trials and allow you to understand which shows have a high correlation of viewers and how getting users to that second or third series increases their lifetime value, giving you the tools you need to prove your value to your customers in a shorter time frame.

As your video service grows, you can test different trial lengths and more sophisticated tactics such as allowing users to extend their trials, but ultimately if you have a deep content offering and great customer experience your users will understand the value and will commit to a buying decision quickly. See how The Wicket Scorecard can help to shape your free trial length strategy for video subscriptions. Schedule a demo with our team today.


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