Unlockable 'Unlocks' Old T/V Ad Model

Perhaps the greatest challenge in the ad-supported T/V (Television/video) sector is one of its own making:  the runaway proliferation of T/V ad scheduling.  Today a linear viewer is asked to behave in a way no sane person would: to sit through 20 minutes of non-program content for 40 minutes of programming. Of course, most viewers don’t sit through ads. They avoid them through various readily available technologies like DVRs and fast-forwarding, by going to second screens, or by just leaving the room.  Advertisers have cooperated with this flooding of ad clutter, under the illusion that CPMs would be much higher if the oversaturation of ads were curtailed.

Today the likes of Netflix and Amazon offer far lower subscription fees for ad-free content, and Hulu has been forced to run fewer ads per hour than the networks on which its shows are originally seen. As a former media planner and buyer, I’m glad to see the era of the traditional linear television advertising model coming to an end. I hope advertisers can wake up and embrace some of the fresh new models emerging that actually increase value to viewers and advertisers alike.



A new company, Unlockable, has been developing one of these entirely new approaches by incentivizing media consumers to engage with ads in exchange for content.  And that engagement is nothing like the kind of “white knuckle” tolerance of traditional T/V ads that viewers have been trained to avoid.  Ad engagement becomes an enhancement to the entertainment experience by turning T/V ads into games themselves, a playground for the kind of interaction that the advertiser world has long sought.

Unlockable technology turns 15- and 30-second spots into games: an “Unlock” button can be placed anywhere on a publisher site where there’s a content “Buy” button, thus allowing consumers free access to paid premium content after a period of  measured engagement. When a person chooses to unlock content, he/she plays a series of mini-games, all built around and using existing T/V ads. Three Unlockable games are currently live in testing:

  • “Trivia,” in which players watch a video and answer questions related to it.
  • “Sort ‘Em,” in which players watch a video and sort images from it into timeline order.
  • “Puzzle,” in which a video breaks into pieces as it’s playing, and players need to reassemble it before it ends.

A playable demo is worth checking out at The company reports more games are in development. (I found that the demo runs best on a Google Chrome browser).

In its first beta test just completed, working with a pilot game publisher and featuring real advertising, Unlockable found the following:

  • 95% of users were engaged for one minute or longer.
  • 76% of videos and corresponding games (averaging over 90 seconds of engagement each) were completed. (Unlockable notes that in a recent study, YuMe found 40% of participants completed online video ads longer than 30 seconds).
  • The average Unlockable user plays through 16 commercials and games for 33 minutes — more time than all the advertising in one-and-a-half hours of prime-time TV.

Founders Zach Goodman and Christopher Bian, who met via the New York Gaming Meet-up mailing (“as only true nerds could,” according to Goodman), see Unlockable as the quickest and easiest path for advertisers to get deep engagement and interactivity, while giving publishers a high-eCPM revenue stream whether their content is video-based or not. They report that publisher inquiries are very high and they are pressing on with development, hoping to announce that general advertiser sales will be available by year end.

This fresh thinking takes the business of ad-supported T/V off the track of buying and selling ads that aren’t seen or engaged with, into a new paradigm of accountable, verifiable, interactive messaging. It will drive revenue that I believe will easily surpass that of the current television ad model: an analog model built on running a mind-numbing number of ads per linear television program that viewers have been expertly trained to avoid.

4 comments about "Unlockable 'Unlocks' Old T/V Ad Model".
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  1. Jeff Ward from Unlockable, July 30, 2013 at 3:12 p.m.

    Hi Paula,

    Thanks for taking the time to read.

    I believe you might be misinterpreting the objective.

    Playing a game WHILE watching TV is not what we are about (as well as that being too much to process).

    We want to make the internet free, truly free, by making engaging with ad content both incentivized and addicting. We are not trying to overwhelm you while you enjoy the media you want, infact we are the complete opposite. We are helping you get free stuff while also stopping ad's from interrupting your experience. Ever listen to Pandora? Hate those ad's mid-stream? Us too.

    Hope that helps!

  2. Zach Goodman from Unlockable, July 30, 2013 at 3:20 p.m.

    Hi Paula, Zach from Unlockable here. Totally agree with you about not wanting to be distracted while I'm watching TV. Thankfully (for both of us), that's not quite how Unlockable works. We allow any publisher selling digital content (think movies, apps, in-app items, etc.) to add an "Unlock" button next to any "Buy" button. The publisher's audience gets a choice: pay like they do today, or play Unlockable games built around TV spots (that's where TV comes in) to get what they want for free. Give our demo a try at and you'll see what I mean. We always appreciate feedback, even if — maybe especially if — you're not a fan. I hope we can make you a believer!

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 30, 2013 at 7:34 p.m.

    Methinks you doth protest too much. No Pandora. No paid radio. I don't mind some ads during programming. Do not want to shop while watching either. Free stuff ? Nothing is free. Nothing. And no, I don't need more free junk. Commercial breaks are giving us all a position to break without breaking the story. Nothing, nothing is free. It always costs something even time to read MediaPost during commercial breaks that you will never get back or time you will never get back helping me get not so free stuff I do not want to be bothered with in any shape, way or form. Advertisers want people who can afford to buy things, not entertain "free".

  4. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, July 31, 2013 at 3:19 a.m.

    Sounds just like a captcha and we all know how much people love them.

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