Boost Subscriber Conversion Rates with OTT Free Trials

Kirstin White | Mon Apr 22 2024 | Industry insights

How to improve conversion with free trials

OTT streaming profitability is complex due to high competition, making it difficult to acquire customers.The issue of increasing churn rate remains a persistent worry for broadcasters, and it is a problem that they have yet to fully understand and address.

Offering an OTT free trial is a highly effective strategy for boosting subscriber acquisition, customer lifetime value, and broadcaster revenues.

As a broadcaster, you may initially think that providing a limited-time, no-cost access period to a platform's content and features is counter-intuitive. However, it is important to carefully consider the net effect of forgoing such an opportunity before making a decision.In this blog post, we’ll explore why extending free trials for OTT platforms is a good idea and can boost your paying subscriber conversion rates. We’ll cover:

  • What do you risk by extending free trials to your viewers
  • Why should OTT broadcasters offer free trials
  • How to measure the impact of a free trial on your streaming business
  • How to implement a free trial program

What do you risk by extending free trials to your viewers

  • Generate less revenue from first-time subscribers in the short term:
    If you provide free access to content, you lose out on immediate revenue from first-time users. Revenue can temporarily dip if many of these users do not convert to paying subscribers after the trial.
  • Abuse of free trials by binge-watchers:

    Sometimes, users attempt to take advantage of the system by creating multiple accounts to enjoy continuous free trials. This may inflate the number of trial users without a corresponding increase in paying customers.

  • Competitive pressure:

    There can be pressure to offer more enticing free trials to compete with other broadcasters. This may create a race to the bottom, where everyone compromises profitability for short-term user acquisition.

Now that we’ve covered the risks, let’s look at opportunities. 

Why should OTT broadcasters offer free trials?

Prospective subscribers can experience a broadcaster's content, offerings, functionality, and USPs through free trials. Despite the limitations, data proves it benefits broadcasters overall.

According to Parks Associates, 58% of US broadband households that accept a free OTT trial convert to fully-fledged paying subscribers. 

The general perspective behind offering free trials is that a person enrolling for the trial access cannot consume the entire streaming library during the period. Provided – you effectively prevent the user from re-applying a "free access" trial to the same offer.  

When executed, the benefits of offering free trials can be varied. They include:

Getting a foot in the door

Offering free trials can be an effective way to entice hesitant users to try out your OTT platform. If they enjoy your content and are satisfied with the service, they may be more likely to become paying subscribers in the future. By gradually reducing their resistance to pay, you can ultimately improve your bottom line and grow your business.

Increasing operational efficiency

Some trials require no credit card information, whereas some mandate users to enter their payment details to enjoy the free usage period. In the latter case, you may be granted extra time to validate subscriber payment methods, which can be used for dunning and to avoid involuntary churn due to payment issues.

Unlocking a vital market research tool

Trials are an excellent sampling method to test new markets and geographies. They also help to detect the element of seasonality in conversions. Trial analytics can provide detailed insights into language, genre, content, location, and distribution channels, uncovering grassroots market information.

Facilitating improvements

Indeed, all free trial subscribers may not turn into paying customers. However, their trial-period behavior can provide accurate insights into what's not working as per the revealed subscriber preferences. This input can help you intervene with any timely remedies needed and make informed future decisions.

Acquiring customer contact information

Free trial subscribers must leave their email details as they enroll with a platform. This also creates a handy database for your marketing team to retarget and positively impact the platform’s future conversion rates.

Generating word-of-mouth marketing

Free trials are an effective way for OTT platforms to demonstrate the vastness and variety of their content library. During these trials, users can explore a diverse range of movies, TV shows, documentaries, and exclusive programming, which helps them understand the true value of the service. If satisfied, users are likely to recommend the platform to their friends and family, which can result in organic growth as more individuals try the service based on positive word-of-mouth.

Building a Competitive advantage

A free trial can also help you set your platform apart from competitors that don’t offer the same facility. This approach demonstrates your confidence in the quality of the service and commitment to empowering users to make an informed decision.

All in all, offering free trials is an opportunity worth exploring. 

In the next section, we’ll examine how to measure whether it works for you. 

How to measure the success of a free trial program in OTT streaming

Measuring the success of a free trial program in OTT streaming involves evaluating various key performance indicators (KPIs) that reflect user engagement, conversion rates, and overall business impact. 

Here are some essential metrics and methods to gauge the effectiveness of your OTT streaming free trial program:

  • Subscriber sign-ups: This includes the number of free trial subscriptions that started in the period selected. Free trial signup rates are essential to analyze in the context of (1) your seasonal trends and (2) your customer acquisition spend. Seasonal spikes in trial signup rates indicate that other acquisition channels, such as win back campaigns, should also be intensified.

  • Conversion Rate: This includes the percentage of free trial users who convert into paying subscribers. A high conversion rate indicates that your free trial program persuades users to commit to a paid subscription.

Converting 20% of 3000 free trial signups or 60% of 1000 trials is both desirable in terms of revenue. Therefore, tracking both the number of trial signups and their percentage conversions matters and deserves its own focus. 

Some other metrics to track include: 

  • Subscriber Retention:

    • This includes the retention rates of users who converted from the free trial. For this, you need to measure how many subscribers remain active over time. This provides insights into the long-term success of your free trial strategy.

  • User Engagement Metrics:

    • You can also examine user engagement during the free trial, including the number of sessions, time spent on the platform, and the variety of content consumed. Higher engagement levels suggest that users find value in the service.

  • Churn Rate Post-Trial:

    • This is the rate at which users cancel their subscriptions after the free trial ends. A lower post-trial churn rate indicates that the free trial successfully attracted users who were genuinely interested in the content.

  • Trial-to-Paid Conversion Time:

    • This measures the time it takes for users to convert from a free trial to a paid subscription. A shorter conversion time may indicate a higher level of interest and satisfaction.

Regularly monitoring these metrics and adjusting your free trial program will help optimize its effectiveness and raise the overall success of your OTT streaming service. 


How to create a high-quality free trial experience and turn subscribers into paying subscribers

To achieve success, it is essential to make sure that your free trial is competitive. Even small changes in the way you approach it can have a significant impact on your key performance indicators (KPIs) and improve the outcomes for your platform. Here are some effective ways to optimize your free trial conversions:

Experiment adequately

There’s no golden formula for defining the ideal duration of free trials or messaging that maximizes conversions. The answer for your platform and its audience lies in experimenting. To experiment and arrive at that, use a robust OTT subscriber management platform that allows different testing variations in trials across geo-locations. Make sure you closely track the trial analytics to decipher outcomes objectively.

Clearly outline and simplify the next steps for customers

When marketing your free trial, ensure clarity for potential subscribers. For this, inform prospects of what's available in the free trial. This needs to include information like its duration and the next steps as they proceed through their journey on your OTT platform. At the final stage, simplify checkout and keep it easy to upgrade, downgrade, or pay using preferred payment methods to increase conversions.

Invest in seamless onboarding

Once you convert users, ensure your onboarding process is streamlined and simple. It should be easy for users to sign up and start their free trial. So, work to minimize friction, simplify account creation, and guide users through the initial steps to enhance their first-time experience.

Ensure seamless communication

Free trial subscribers often have reservations or queries during their trial period. Communicating and supporting them efficiently at this time is a must - which means you need to offer excellent customer support. Read more on how to offer excellent customer care using Hi5.

Broaden your subscriber’s content preferences using personalization

If your subscribers end up “binge-watching” content during the trial and consume the majority of their content of interest, they will be less likely to sign up afterward. You can overcome this by sharing targeted content reminders and personalized recommendations outside of their typical interest.

By doing so, you can remind them of all the exciting content they have not yet experienced. This can offset the negative effect of binge-watching content. Plus, a subscription is more appealing if there seems to be a wide range of content with sufficient content refresh.

Use coupons or discounts to win them over

Another factor that can reduce conversion is the intimidating jump from a free trial to a paid subscription. Sometimes, users commit to trials just because they’re free. The leap to a full-price subscription may be too much for such users. One way to smooth out this transition is by using discount coupons.

To encourage early subscriptions, you can offer discounts or special promotions to users who sign up before their free trial ends. Creating a sense of urgency can motivate users to convert sooner rather than later.

Alternatively, you can reduce the cost of the first month by adding extra incentives and making it easier for customers to sign up. When the financial aspect is less intimidating, customers can focus on the most crucial part: the content.

We realized the importance of discounts in winning over subscribers, so Cleeng’s new checkout platform includes a coupon feature.

Find out why they’re canceling

Last but not least, feedback is an essential part of making the most of your free trials. Even with a lost subscriber, there is still something to gain. Understanding what factors are hindering your conversion rates is essential for improvement.

As part of Cleeng’s account management hub, we offer a fine-tuned cancellation survey. This is an opportunity for customers to reflect on their experience and share what kept them from converting. Using subscriber insights, we have developed concise and accurate response options. This allows customers to share honest feedback without taking up too much of their time. Knowing why previous customers have left, is step one to getting future subscribers to stay.

How to implement a free trial strategy for your OTT platform

Free trials are straightforward to set up when you’re equipped with the right tech stack. Using Cleeng's dashboard, you can implement your free trial in three easy steps: 

  • Navigate to “Offers & Coupons” on your dashboard. 
  • Click “Create Offer" and enter the details per your trial campaign. For “Pricing,” select the number of days of the free trial. 
  • Click on “Finish Setup.”

That’s all. Viewers will be notified about the free trial during checkout. 

Best part: Cleeng’s platform is optimized to ensure that the same users cannot re-apply the "free access" trial to the same offer. This duly safeguards your interest as an OTT broadcaster.

Once you set the trial, keep a close watch on trial analytics

The SRM analytics dashboard is designed to reveal intelligent, real-time insight into varied aspects of subscriber journeys through different trial variations. 

The free trial dashboard provides inputs on engagement levels that predict conversions. Sometimes, trial conversions spike during seasons, and the dashboard reveals such seasonal trends as well. With this information, you can think of ways to boost off-season sales with attractive seasonal offers or reduce marketing campaign costs during expected high seasons.

Are you facing difficulty in retaining your subscribers? This could be due to a variety of reasons such as lack of interest in the content, poor streaming experience or the perception of the subscription being too expensive. To help you optimize conversions and retain subscribers, the dashboard provides you with strategic information.


It's important to note that the dashboard includes transaction data from both in-app and web payments. This provides a more thorough understanding of recurring revenue trends that result from newly converted free trials.

Additionally, it reveals the average time at which most free trial users tend to cancel their trial. For example, if most customers cancel 20 days into a 30-day trial period. With this information, you can try engaging the trialist with an enticing offer, coupon, or content on the 19th day. 

Bottom Line: Using free trials helps win long-term battles

The growing OTT landscape is turning competitive for broadcasters to acquire and retain subscribers. Experimenting with trial variations is an excellent way to cut through the noise, entice viewers, and convert them. 

If you want to enhance your free trial conversion and subsequent retention, set up your trial properly and communicate its terms to users. Ensure optimized checkouts and provide prompt support should customers need it. Finally, keep a close tab on the trial analytics data to identify patterns and be ahead of them. Should you notice red flags, address them to turn the trial limitations into an advantage. 

A flexible subscriber management system specializing in managing media and entertainment subscriptions can help you navigate these aspects smoothly. Core is a powerful suite for navigating OTT subscriber management. Leverage it to improve conversion rate, build lasting subscriber relations, and ensure seamless payments.


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