HitBliss lets users ‘pay’ for streaming movies and TV shows by watching ads

A new streaming video service called HitBliss, launching in beta Friday after being in development for about five years, aims at users with more time than money: Users who sit through targeted ads receive funds that they can redeem for new streaming movies and TV shows. The company is launching with content from The CW, Universal, Paramount, Starz Media and the Weinstein Company. It will offer access to movies four months after they leave theaters, and access to TV episodes they day after they air.

For now, HitBliss is available only on the web and on desktops, not on mobile devices — though the company plans to expand to other platforms soon. Among the available content at launch are new movies like ArgoMagic Mike and The Bourne Legacy and new episodes of shows like Real Housewives and The Walking Dead.

hitbliss 2Users are served a “playlist” of ads that are delivered to them based on information that they include in a profile. When they watch the ads, they earn virtual cash that can eventually be redeemed for content. Users can specify how much information they’re willing to make available to advertisers; the more information they share, the faster they earn.

Other companies have dabbled with virtual currency in exchange for video. Yidio, for instance, gives users points for completing various tasks, and the points can then be redeemed for Amazon (s AMZN) Video on Demand credits. HitBliss is different, however, in that both earning and viewing are done through the same platform.

As HitBliss users watch ads — which they can do at any time, not just right before they want to watch a movie or TV show — cash accumulates in their accounts, and they can redeem it when they wish. HitBliss charges $3.99 for a new movie rental, $1.99 for an older movie rental and $1.99 per TV episode. (Movie rentals last 24 hours, while users will own the TV episodes.) In general, about 8 to 10 minutes of ad viewing (roughly four ads) can be redeemed for one new movie.

The system includes a lot of checks to make sure that users are actually watching ads. “Advertisers are only paying when users are paying attention,” HitBliss cofounder and CMO Sharon Peyer told me. If a user plays an ad and then navigates away or mutes the sound, the ad pauses. An “attention assurance meter” — with a patent pending — occasionally requires users to click it to ensure that they’re paying attention; if they are not, “it gets very angry,” Peyer said, referring to a smily-face icon that turns to a frown the longer it is ignored, before ultimately resetting the ad and requiring the user to watch it again. Over time, users earn “trust points” that decrease the frequency of prompts to make sure they’re paying attention.

Peyer said the platform’s store will eventually expand to include other types of digital content, like apps and virtual goods. HitBliss is based in Lexington, Mass., and is backed by Andy Marcuvitz’s Alpond Capital. Peyer and her husband, CEO Andrew Prihodko, founded the company in mid-2008 after selling a video- and picture-sharing site called Pixamo.