Today, the internet gives us access to any type of content that our heart desires. We could learn a language, take fitness classes, listen to podcasts of any genre or read about the latest news stories. It’s an amazing world of opportunities for both online users, as the consumers of this content, and for the content producers themselves.
With the vast amount available, monetizing online content is becoming increasingly easier. Users are more likely to be willing to pay for access, especially for content that’s specialized and of a high quality. This can be achieved through integrating a paywall into your site, which asks for a value exchange of subscription payment to access content. Not only this, but even just requiring users to register (a registration wall), which costs them nothing, can bring value to the publisher. It's particularly useful for collecting first-party data (very important with the end of 3rd-party cookies) meaning you can personalize the user journey, monetize from targeted advertising and build a strong relationship with your audience.
What’s more, a paywall or registration wall can be used by, and benefit, producers of any type of content!
This is what our series ‘Paywall for…’ is all about. We want to highlight the advantages of using a paywall or registration wall for any content publisher, whether they’re an e-learning or online class platform, brand, video streaming website or podcast and music producer.
We’ll look at:
- What content types are included in this category?
- How to monetize: deciding on which wall to employ including examples from successful content producers
- Best practices
Today: Paywalls for VOD and streaming websites
The TV and film industry has evolved beyond belief over the last few decades. From previously having access to only our TV, we can now view an any film, programme or video produced anywhere in the world, in every genre imaginable. Video consumption is rapidly increasing and the majority of TV channels are experiencing a move to online streaming over watching live program emissions.
With this reinvention of video, streaming sites have had to adapt their monetization strategies. There are two central approaches to profiting in this industry: ad-based or subscription-based. Although advertising has been the most prominent monetization strategy for a while, we’ve seen a huge shift to subscription and registration models. The evidence of that is clear with the popularity of subscription-first VOD sites such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. What’s more, it’s easy to see why this move has taken place.
Why employ a subscription or registration strategy?
- More reliable revenue stream: advertising models are becoming increasingly less stable and don’t provide half of the other benefits as subscription or registration. You can also monetize from advertising alongside a subscription strategy and even use it as a selling point for your paid offers (i.e. subscription comes ad-free)
- First-party data collection: this is a huge advantage of employing a subscription or registration strategy, particularly given the end to third-party cookies and importance of respecting your user’s data privacy. By requiring visitors to create an account on your site, you can collect owned, consensual, high-quality and relevant data to inform your business strategies
- Targeted advertising: if you do decide to continue monetizing from advertising as well as employing this strategy, you can target them to the right audience. Once you’ve collected data about a user’s profile, you’ll have a better understanding of their interests and what adverts are going to work best for them. This not only goes for external advertising, but also for you to promote your own services or even upsell to current subscribers
- Adapted experiences: particularly in the VOD industry, users have high expectations for personalization on a website. At the very least, they want to be able to resume content where they left off and be presented with recommendations that are relevant to their interests. This, and more, is easy to achieve if you require a user to create an account. With the data gathered about their profile and the use of an account page on your site, you can adapt the experience to each of your registered users.
- Improved user experience: aside from the above, a strategy that isn’t reliant on advertising is highly likely to provide a better experience for your audience than a subscription model. What’s more, people are increasingly more willing to pay for this improved experience so subscription is the easy solution.
This model is clearly very advantageous to a content producer and can be achieved through integrating a paywall or registration wall into your site. We’ll cover the various options in more detail later but the central idea is that you block access to content and ask users for a value exchange in order to get past. This means a win-win for you and your audience - whilst you get to benefit from the wall (see list above), your user’s get value in the form of quality content and a better experience.
1) What content types are included in this category?
It’s easy to assume that Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) sites are the only companies relevant in this category. However, a wide variety of video content producers, marketplaces and streaming sites are getting on board with subscription and registration models to reep in its benefits. We can divide the industry into the sub-categories below but this area of content is evolving rapidly as players find new avenues to move into. Therefore, the list is far from exhaustive.
- Tv-replay sites: (usually the online version of TV channels. The main model here seems to be a registration wall, likely because it’s free for users but brings value for the media) ITV Hub, All4, MYTF1, The Big Issue TV, Apple tv+ (paywall)
- SVOD: Netflix, Canal +, HBO, Disney+, Amazon Prime, NOWTV, HULU
- Streaming sites: Twitch (games streaming platform with a registration wall and subscription package), Facebook live (registration wall), Younow
- Video content marketplaces: (where users can post videos and view other’s content) Youtube, Tiktok, Vimeo, Instagram (reels and lives growing in popularity)
Note that each of these websites has a clear value proposition and selling point to set it apart from others in this highly competitive market. This is a hugely important to define before employing a wall strategy so as to give users a reason to subscribe.
For example, Netflix’s selling point is its wide range of content, including TV shows and films from across the world including hugely popular Netflix Originals which can’t be found anywhere else. Their value proposition is that Netflix is limitless - they offer an endless range of content that can be consumed as much as a user desires, anywhere in the world and with the ability to cancel anytime.
2) How to monetize video on demand and streaming sites: paywall or registration wall?
There are two central options here, registration wall or paywall, but both can (and should) be employed in different ways to match your business strategy, content and audience.
Registration wall for VOD and streaming sites
A registration wall blocks content and requires a user to create a free account in order to gain access. The key here is that you’re creating a value exchange with your audience. Instead of being able to view your content freely, you’re asking them to provide your business with something in return for access. So, how does a registration wall benefit the content provider?
- First-party data collection: as mentioned above, the ability to collect information from your users whilst they interact with your content is hugely valuable. Once registered, you’ll be able to learn about their interests, wants and needs to directly inform your strategy not only in the registration process but also in every part of your business. Understanding what your audience wants is worth its weight in gold and can be achieved with a simple registration wall. It’s a no brainer really.
- Targeted advertising: for each logged in user, you’ll be able to develop a profile about their interests in order to target adverts. This will increase monetization from advertising as you can charge more for presenting the ads to a specific audience, your users will only see ads that they are actually interested in and you can even use targeting to promote your own services or upsell subscription offers.
- Improved user experience: because users will have their own account space once registered, you can give the opportunity to save content for later, resume where they left off, recommend relevant videos and allow them to access their account from any device. This provides a significantly improved user experience than if they continue to visit your site anonymously. And remember, a better user experience means more customer loyalty, retention and an improved relationship with your audience.
- One step closer to subscription: registration can play a valuable role in subscription strategies, bringing a user one step closer to paying for content. From our research and clients, we’ve seen that account holders are up to 200% more likely to subscribe than anonymous users. What’s more, with the data from a registered user, you can improve their experience and target subscription offers to make them increasingly more likely to subscribe.
One of the places you’ll most likely have seen registration walls is on TV-replay websites, including ITV Player, MyTF1 and MTV.
For example, on ITV and My TF1, a visitor to the site is able to browse content freely but is faced with a registration wall as soon as they try to play a show or film. Although categorized as a hard registration model, meaning that all content is blocked by the wall, the fact that we’re able to see what content is on offer is hugely beneficial for increasing conversion rates. By the time a user clicks on a show or film, they have already decided that they want to watch it. So, when faced with the registration wall, they’ll be more likely to create an account in order to access the content.
Once we click on an episode that we want to watch and select ‘play’, the registration wall appears and we have to sign in or create an account.
MY TF1 is very similar but the wall is presented before we click play. This facilitates the registration process as the number of clicks needed is reduced, however the clicks required to sign in (as an existing account member) is increased. See the whole user journey to registration on MY TF1 in this article.
Back on ITV, after selecting ‘Sign up now’, we’re redirected to this form which requires a significant amount of information (and so effort) from the user. It’s important that you carry out tests to find the optimal number of questions to ask in the registration process - too many and you turn users away but too few and you miss out on valuable data collection. Remember though that you can gather information gradually as a user interacts with your site, so getting a visitor registered in the first place is the priority.
An alternative approach is that of Instagram, whose reels and live video features are rising in popularity. They employ a much stricter registration wall strategy as we have very limited (or no) access to content prior to being presented with the wall.
A good practice to note here is that Instagram facilitates the registration process by providing the option of using an existing Facebook account. We also have the option of using either our phone number or email address to register. Providing users with a choice is a great way to make registering easier and suit your wall to different audiences, however be wary not to give too many options as this can be counterproductive.
Alternatively, Twitch, a video streaming service, employs a freemium registration wall which allows users access to most content without registering but some videos and features are reserved for account holders.
The registration wall appears as a popup and presents a form to fill out. The fact that we remain on the same page makes for a better user experience and means we can get back to consuming content as soon as registration is complete. The only issue we found with this form was that the password was constantly ‘too weak’ and not able to be used, despite using a mix of letters, numbers and capitals, but we weren’t told why. This is important as you want to help your users to fill in the form rather than frustrate them and make them want to abandon the process.
Paywall for VOD and streaming sites
Differently to a registration wall, a paywall requires a user to pay a subscription fee in order to access content. It therefore acts as a tool to employ within a subscription strategy, providing the content block and first step in the conversion funnel.
A paywall brings much of the same benefits as a registration wall, however there is of course the additional monetization potential. Asking users to directly pay for content is becoming increasingly common and, if you have the right content and value proposition, you’ll be able to fund your content from a significantly more profitable and reliable revenue stream than ad-based models.
The most common websites to use a paywall are VOD platforms such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime. This is usually thanks to the wide range of content on offer, allowing a user to subscribe to a single platform without limiting their range of viewing options.
Disney+ employs a similar model to Netflix, using a hard paywall to block content and require subscription. The image below shows the landing page on their site - we can’t browse content before being hit by the wall, however the text, images and logos highlight their value proposition. They cleverly present the subscription offers in the paywall itself, reducing a step in the conversion process as well as emphasizing that you can save money by paying per year rather than each month.
Once we select ‘Sign up now’, there’s a 4-step subscription process. Interestingly, if we leave the site after passing stage one (filling in our email address) we are remembered if we leave and come back later. This is an impressive technique to increase conversion rates as we don’t have to start the process again if abandoned. The key to this is collecting email addresses first, allowing you to register and track them from this stage onwards. It also means that reminders or promotional emails can be sent if the process is completed.
The payment stage in the conversion funnel allows us to change our mind about whether we want to pay monthly or annually. The bright green tag ‘save 16%’ promotes this offer to users and gives us an idea as to which offer Disney+ would prefer us to select. We’re also given the choice between two payment methods and the bare minimum of information is required.
The mobile app version is very similar, but the funnel is yet more simplified by using Apple pay.
Disney+ have clearly worked hard on their paywall, conversion funnel and subscription offers, but remember that it’s their value proposition which is the central reason for a visitor becoming a subscriber.
The Big Issue, a British magazine who have recently launched ‘The Big Issue TV’ subscription, take a different approach to the same hard paywall model. Before being presented with a paywall, we have the chance to browse content and see what's on offer. This is perhaps vital for a new VOD site to succeed in the market as users won’t be aware of their value proposition nor selling point. The paywall is only presented when we try to start watching some content.
It isn’t hugely clear until we click ‘Sign up now’ that this is a paywall rather than a registration wall. Unlike Disney+, the subscription offers aren’t forefronted and we only find the cost out in the next step where it’s written in small font. We’re informed that it’s 3.99 a month, but with no indication of what this includes nor whether there are other options available. It’s not necessarily a bad practice to only have one subscription offer, but it should be shown clearly to users, along with the benefits of subscribing in order to show that they’re getting good value for money.
Hybrid wall for VOD and streaming sites
Whilst you can use a paywall or registration wall individually, it’s also possible to employ the two simultaneously - what’s called a hybrid model.
In this instance, a content provider will block content in some form with a registration wall before later asking them to subscribe by presenting a paywall. This can be a hugely beneficial way to optimize a subscription strategy as a user gets the chance to discover your content whilst providing you with first-party data before they’re required to pay for access. Not only does this mean that you can learn about users on your site even before they subscribe, but you can also adapt their experience to encourage them to subscribe even sooner. For example, you can recommend content and present them with a personalized subscription offer to suit their profile.
What’s more, even if a user doesn’t choose to subscribe when faced with the paywall, you may be able to use their data to get an idea of why. This will allow you to take preventative measures in the future to reduce churn and optimize your site for encouraging conversions.
All4, a British TV-replay site, employs a hybrid strategy where we’re required to register in order to view content but subscription offers are also available with added benefits. Note that they don’t ever block a registered user with a paywall but simply have the subscription offer available.
We are asked to create an account in 3 simple steps and very little information is required.
The user experience is significantly improved thanks to the registration wall. We are able to see the programmes that we’ve been watching and resume where we left off as well as add shows to a list to watch later.
Because content can be accessed for free after passing through the registration wall, their subscription offers need a selling point to persuade users that it’s worth paying for. It’s clear in their value proposition below that subscription is ad-free (note that shows are normally interrupted 4 times by a few minutes of adverts), can be watched anywhere (normally restricted to the UK) and that it's 3.99 a month with a 14 day free trial. The promotion of a trial is useful to allow users to discover why subscription is better than a free account.
For All4, a registration wall is hugely valuable as they benefit from users even when they don’t subscribe - a registered user provides first-party data and allows for monetization from advertising.
Dynamic wall for VOD and streaming sites
A dynamic wall can be any of the above but one that intelligently adapts to the individual user based on first-party data.
When designing and launching the paywall or registration wall, a publisher can segment their audience into groups based on the user context, such as their geographic location, the type of content they’re on, device used or their propensity to subscribe for example. Each group can be allocated a different user journey to match their profile and to provide you with improved conversion rates and a reduction in churn.
This is key. If you’re able to optimize the journey for each user segment, even with small changes, you’ll improve the results across the board.
Improve conversion rates = Increase subscribers + Reduce churn = significant revenue growth.
A dynamic wall therefore recognizes and capitalizes on the fact that every user is different, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy that will get results from every individual. You need to adapt the journey to your users and optimize your chances of them completing actions that benefit your business.
This is the solution that Poool provides. Our easy-to-use and adaptable tool allows you to put first-party data to use and inform your paywall or registration wall strategy. Segment your audience, design alternative journeys, A/B test variables, analyze results and optimize accordingly, all within the Dashboard and without the need for tech support!
3) Best practices
Although the benefits of paywalls and registration walls are extensive in themselves, you can optimize their success even further by applying these best practices.
Remember (we’ve said it before and will say it again!) your business is unique, with its own audience, content and strategies, so any recommendations should of course be taken on board and considered, but they should be applied to your context.
- Define a clear value proposition and focus on content:
This is important for all businesses, whether producing content or not, but it’s even more essential to the success of a VOD or streaming website. This is because the market is highly competitive and most users don’t subscribe to more than 1 video streaming site. But, by making your value proposition clear, targeting your content and highlighting what users gain from subscribing, you’ll have a greater chance of building an established, and monetizing, audience.
To serve your audience’s needs and encourage them to subscribe, you need to consider what makes a user subscribe to one VOD site over another, or subscribe to two VOD platforms simultaneously:
- To expand the content range
- To watch a specific type of content (e.g. Disney films on Disney+)
- To watch originals from that provider (e.g. Netflix originals, ITV shows, etc)
- To watch exclusives (e.g. Friends reunion on HBO)
- To access content that’s been widely discussed (e.g. House of Cards on Netflix)
- To access content for a cheaper price
- To have an ad-free experience (e.g. upgrading from free to subscription on All4)
Overall, your content is the most important part of the customer decision-making process and a value proposition will help to demonstrate what your content has to offer.
- Look at the market and adapt to the facts:
This is pretty obvious but let’s take an example:
“According to the findings from our 2018 Global Consumer Streaming Habits Survey, 58 percent of global video content consumers stream content at least once a week via a connected TV—while 51 percent stream at least once a week on a mobile device, and 50 percent do so on a computer or laptop. Millennials (19–36 year olds) lead the way in all categories, reporting 72 percent, 73 percent, and 65 percent, respectively.” - Bright Cove
From this data, we can see that 19-36 year olds are a key target market for this industry and that just over the majority of streaming is on mobile devices. Therefore, we can adapt our strategy to this information - ensure that the site is not just mobile-friendly but optimized for use on mobile devices and we can create subscription offers adapted to younger audiences, such as reduced student offers.
For example, both ITV and Tiktok have very optimized mobile versions of their site via apps. ITV has a menu bar at the bottom of the screen for ease-of-access as well as similar personalization options as on desktop but with the addition of ‘Downloads’ where users can download content for watching offline.
Tiktok is very mobile friendly (in fact their app is likely their central access point for users). For example, creating an account can be done in a variety of ways, including with Apple for apps downloaded on an Iphone.
With a dynamic wall, you can segment your audience based on device used or age range and provide an adapted journey to best suit this user profile. This is a great place to start and will help you create user experiences that are optimized to suit every individual user.
- Reduce active churn
Some churn is unavoidable (passive churn, such as payment failure or some other method not related to your business) but a lot is due to a user initiating the unsubscription from your site. There are actions you can take to reduce this and it helps if you put your data to use in understanding exactly why subscription cancellations are happening. This is the best approach as the issues are unique to your site, but they usually come down to one of three main issues:
- Content: continue to release new content, make sure it interests your audience (use data to see what content is the most popular), provide a range of content with exclusives and originals, etc.
- User experience: is your site easy to navigate? Does it include personalization features (such as saving content)? Is your mobile/app version optimized? Make sure to look at engagement times as a KPI as low engagement times suggests a negative experience for users.
- Engagement: this is key to retention and so monetization. If you release content that might interest a user, such as the next series of a show they binge watched, then tell them. Reward loyalty and engagement, provide features to discuss content or share with others, give discounts for users who recommend your content to a friend, for example.
Poool can help! Our conversion walls can be integrated into any content, including videos.
Interested in trying out the Poool Dashboard for yourself? Book a free demo with the team!