Katherine Boehret

Trusty Viewers Get Free Video With Ad “Work”

People will do almost anything to get free digital access to movies and TV shows. One company believes people will even “work” to earn money to pay for this content. The job: Watching ads.

For the past week, I’ve been using HitBliss to watch new movies and episodes of television shows without paying anything. I earned money to pay for them by watching video ads that I chose. HitBliss made sure I was watching the ads by displaying little on-screen prompts for me to click.

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An ad for the new movie “42” with a strip below showing ads that can be watched to boost a balance.

I found HitBliss to be a refreshing change from video-watching alternatives, including monthly subscription models like Netflix or free videos on Hulu that intersperse ads most people ignore. On HitBliss, once I watched enough ads to pay for a video, I could forget about ads altogether and enjoy a movie or TV show without interruptions.

HitBliss must be downloaded to a Mac or Windows PC, though a cable can connect a PC and TV for big-screen viewing. It’s still in a beta phase, with a waiting list for interested viewers. For access now, go to http://hitbliss.com/wsj. Android and iOS apps are in the works.

On the downside, HitBliss offers a portion of the catalogs found in stores from Apple and Amazon. Though content is new, including current-season TV episodes and new-release movies, I found fewer than 700 movies and about 140 TV shows (with thousands of episodes) in the HitBliss Store. Shows like AMC’s “Mad Men,” FX’s “The Americans” and PBS’s “Downton Abbey” weren’t available.

Another caveat is you can’t rent or purchase more than seven titles a day using the Earned Pay option, so if you want to binge-watch several seasons of a TV series in one day, you’ll have to pony up the dough for the eighth episode on. (HitBliss takes Visa or MasterCard for payments, just like a regular digital video store.) Earned Pay is acquired in $5 increments before you have to spend your earnings.

HitBliss is divided into two sections: HitBliss Earn, where you view ads to make money; and HitBliss Store, where you find the content you want to watch. A handy History box shows all of the videos you’ve watched, while a Saved section lets you keep TV episodes or movies you might want to watch in the future.

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The HitBliss page for “Flight” shows the movie costs $3.99, but the user only has a balance of $2.50, shown in the lower right.

Your HitBliss trust level rises or falls depending on how conscientious you are about clicking on the pop-up prompts, and this trust level affects how many pop-ups you see and how fast you earn money. If I muted my computer, turned the volume down too low or navigated to another window, the ad stopped. If I missed a prompt, my earnings stopped accruing and my HitBliss trust level dropped, resulting in seeing these pop-ups more often.

If you want to earn money faster, you can give HitBliss ad partners access to personal information like Web-search history, Web-browser history, current location, age, gender, income, education and children’s ages. If you don’t want to spend money on videos, you can have a check mailed to you or have HitBliss donate the money to a charity of your choosing.

I started out by opting into the slowest Earned Pay pace, which didn’t let advertisers know any of my personal information. Only a handful of companies (around five or six, depending on the week) are currently advertising on HitBliss, so I saw quite a few of the same Dr Pepper and Aflac commercials.

But waiting for the little pop-up attention tests added a game-like quality to watching ads. The faster I clicked on the prompts, the more trust I earned, giving me more points and money.

Oddly, the HitBliss Earn video player doesn’t display how much money you’ve earned as you go. Instead, it shows five rectangles in the bottom right of the screen, which the company’s founder, Sharon Peyer, says represent a dollar per rectangle. When I earned $5, a message popped up saying I had reached the maximum balance.

At this point, users can’t watch any more ads and can navigate back to the HitBliss Store where TV shows cost $1.99 an episode and 24-hour movie rentals range from $1.99 to $3.99.

The first time I used my earnings, I bought the pilot episode of the thrilling crime show “The Following” for $1.99. On the pay screen, I could choose to use either my Earned Pay or credit card. All HitBliss content is only available in standard definition and not high definition, but I didn’t miss HD. The video — like the most recent episode of “The Mentalist” — looked crisp and clear.

The HitBliss viewing experience was good. I especially liked being able to rewind or fast-forward to the exact second of a show, using a slide bar. I experienced a few instances of slow buffering on my typical home Verizon DSL Internet connection, including one that lasted 15 seconds. Otherwise, video streamed easily with few delays and HitBliss auto-adjusted the quality of my video stream according to my connection. Video can be watched in a small- or full-screen view, and captions can be turned on or off.

I rented the DreamWorks animated movie “Rise of the Guardians” for $3.99 and rated it after I was finished. These ratings, which include funny canned comments you can click on or your manually added comments, can be shared with other friends on the service, or via Facebook and Twitter.

If you’re tired of paying for video, HitBliss offers a smart solution that doesn’t take much work for the rewards. Just prepare yourself for its current limitations.

Email Katie at katie.boehret@wsj.com.


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