Binge-Watch, Cancel, Repeat

Nearly one-third of free trials of streaming video-on-demand services turn into paid subscriptions, according to research from Parks Associates. That’s supposed to be a pretty good conversion rate (like a baseball batting average), but I’m not so sure.

Just try subscribing to Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime without getting a free trial. Impossible!

Last December, out of the blue, Amazon offered me a six-month student trial. I wasn't exactly sure why. Still, I had recently taken Turner Classic Movies/Ball State U’s online course on slapstick films, so I accepted Amazon’s terms. Now I could binge — for free — on “Mozart in the Jungle” and more.

But wait, my pay TV provider (yes, I’ve still got one) had given me a three-month trial of HBO back in the fall – and then forgot to cancel it. So I was also watching shows like ‘Westworld” and “Silicon Valley.”



My wife and I were having a great time sampling all this free content when she decided to finally catch up on all five seasons – 60 episodes! – of “The Wire.”

We hit a rough spot trying to decide between my choice, watching the show on HBO on a standard TV set, where it would be easier to read subtitles when those drug dealers get mumbly, or hers — streaming Amazon on a computer’s smaller screen to feel closer to the action.

Not a serious reason to fight — but it led us to sample Amazon’s “Catastrophe,” about a couple who, dealing with a surprise pregnancy, have to learn to compromise.

Are we typical of the two-thirds who take free trials without subsequently subscribing? The jury’s still out.

We might continue with Amazon Prime, since they do throw in great extras, like delivering a bar of soap with no shipping fee. (My wife’s ukulele lessons should qualify us again for the student rate, right?) HBO shows no signs of ever quitting us.

After a previous obligatory trial, we now pay for Netflix, but only when it’s time to watch one of “our shows,” like “Orange is the New Black” or “Stranger Things.” So maybe we fit into the group that goes on to lay out real money for SVODs. Although, I don’t think we’re exactly the kind of subscribers Netflix wants.

Pay cable networks used to obsess about churn. You don’t hear the term much with SVOD, but the very nature of binging -- and ability to cancel at will -- would seem to work against long-term subscriptions. “ ‘Orange’ is coming back,” I’ll say on June 1. “Let’s resubscribe and then cancel immediately; they won’t cut us off until July 1.”

Still, spending all that time in the sampling aisle of the content supermarket had begun to make us greedy.

We signed on to try Filmstruck, a way to further our education in classic, but more esoteric, films. The Filmstruck trial lasts just two weeks – presumably because the sharp minds at co-owners TCM and The Criterion Collection realize that’s hardly enough time to actually finish one of their “collections,” full of extras like long "making-of" documentaries.

Next, maybe we’ll take the week-long trial of TribecaShort List, which appealingly curates films according to celebrity recommendations. And aren't all episodes of “The Good Fight” now available? We can quickly binge them for free with a trial of CBS All Access!

Uh-oh! We’re now starting to look like another group Parks Associates identified in its study: the 1% who consistently “abuse free trials to avoid paying for services.”

We hear a support group for serial trial addicts is starting up soon — but we’re too busy binging to check it out.

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