Would You Watch Un-Skippable Ads in Exchange for Free Games and Apps?

Updated with iPhone friendly video from WMExperts (irony!).

Would you watch un-skippable ads on your mobile device in exchange for free apps and games? That's the question we're pondering in light of Zune HD doing just that. You pay your hundreds of dollars for the device, and Microsoft provides a few extra games/apps, but sometimes an ad will play before the app launches, and you can't skip them. See the video above for an example (apologies to those on the iPhone, we didn't make the video, so have no control over the iPhone-unfriendly format).

We first heard about this from Matt Miller, editor of NokiaExperts.com and last night during iPhone Live! We discussed it with special guest, Phil Nickinson of WMExperts. At first Phil said he'd never seen one, but then lo and behold, right there live, one of those Kia car commercials began to play when he tried to launch and app.

Of course, watching commercials in exchange for free content is how broadcast TV works, but does that model translate to mobile devices?

Personally, I'm okay with it as long as I know about it up front and I have the option of paying something to get a commercial-free version in case my time (and, frankly, tolerance for seeing the same commercials over and over every time I launch an app) is worth more to me than a few dollars.

iPhone apps, since the beginning with Twitterrific have provided free (ad supported) and paid (no ads) versions, though even then the ads were far less intrusive than full screen video, un-skippable TV style commercials.

What do you think? More free apps the better, or can commercial monetization go too far? And is it more acceptable to put a commercial before a game than it would be, say, to put it before something more vital like the music player, web browser, or email client?

[Zune HD commercial video by Ars Technica via Daring Fireball]

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Would You Watch Un-Skippable Ads in Exchange for Free Games and Apps?


I agree with you Rene - I like the opportunity to play the games for free, but at the same time, I want to play a game when I launch it and not 30 seconds later. With that said, i would like to see a free with commercials and a paid version. I think this would be a win-win situation.

I hate ad supported apps.
If I like something I will buy it. I have very few free apps on my iPod touch. I get the lite versions of apps to try them out first, and if I like the trial I buy the app shortly afterwords.

These are Microsoft created apps with adds. Big difference between that and third party on iPhone. So this money goes to Microsoft? Is the zune that much of a failure that they need the added revenue? If that's the case they should just drop this whole thing.

"And is it more acceptable to put a commercial before a game than it would be, say, to put it before something more vital like the music player, web browser, or email client?"
I think this is an interesting question. If I had to watch a commercial before opening an email client or web browser or an app I just needed some quick info from (1Password, Car Minder, Balance, etc.) I would be super frustrated! But a quick ad like that one before opening up a game isn't so bad. I think I could deal with that.

This could certainly go too far but why not have the option? At the very least it could provide a demo of sorts and if the user decides the ads are intrusive then they can simply purchase the app. I'd love to see hulu on the iPhone or some way that the iTunes libraries could be accessed through an ad-supported means. The latter of the two will never happen but I can dream!

Any obtrusive ads and I am out of there. If the app is any good I'll pay for it - it's not as if they are expensive!

Don't mind tiny banners like in Sportacular, but no way would I download something with a commercial. And if I did, it would get the worst review ever.

Would we have any choice? If they're unskippable and we use them, we'd have no choice but to watch them. What kind of question is that?

Seriously guys, can't we put an end to the stupid "first!" comments. It's like your in 3rd grade rushing to the recess line. grow the hell up!

I think I've downloaded three free apps (eBay, Facebook, and PayPal). Free apps are usually garbage anyway, so I don't bother with them for the most part.

It's not a bad idea. I would watch a 30 second commercial every few days or weeks not to have to pay $10 for an app I only use every few days or weeks anyway.
If I get to the point where I play a game every day (and therefore have to see an ad every day), then I should probably think about buying an ad-free version of it.

I have several free apps on my 2G for my kids which have the occasional buy me prompt. Some apps do it between each game (FS5) I usually delete them. It be nice if they could tailor them to companies you actually use. I'd watch Target ads for example

No no no... We should have the option to skip just like I do with me TiVo'd programs. I seriously loathe commercials or ads on my mobile device.

NO. Just charge me the $1, or $5. On the same note, if your app is for sale, stop plugging your other apps in it. Ads within paid apps are unforgivable.

Absolutely not. It's much too easy for all of the devs to get geedy and start doing this on all free apps. Any apps I see doing this will be given one star.

Re: iPhone comparisons: I just noticed last night in an update of "What's On?" that a full-screen, 5-second ad is displaying now before the channel listing comes up.
Granted, the ad was for an upcoming TV series, and it's a free app, but that's still not the small banner ads I usually see in free apps.. not that I mind much. These things cost money to develop, and there's an implicit agreement that takes place when you purchase that you might be advertised to.
The Zune does have a marketplace, right? So is it clear this is a Microsoft app that's ad-supported? Hate to jump the gun on that one.

Not for apps; it's not as though they cost alot anyway. Now, for tv, I would settle for 30 second adverts for watchable 3G tv. Never happen though LOL ;)

if it was different commercials I wouldn't mind so much but when they play the same one over and over, I usually grow to despise that product

and I was playing with one earlier, anyone noticed the long loading times? It's a 2009 device that’s is "supposed" to kill the iPod. 15 secs of loading is no where near acceptable.

My answer would be no for games and apps, but I can tolderate up to 15 seconds before the start of a video, or bettter, one ad before a sequence of videos the way some news sites do.

Plenty of the free apps on my iPhone do the same thing. Especially games in between rounds of play. It's annoying, unskipable, but livable. Just like someone above me said, it's the trade off for free apps.

loading a web page brings back not so fond memories of the dial up days, no? and i can do the math on a piece of paper by the time the calculator opens. I know people will say this is version 1 and there will be improvements, which is fine, but come on. why even bother if this is what you have to offer.

@ adam
yes, but those are third party apps. Here we are talking about apps made by microsoft . If apple ran ads before any of their apps people would lose it.....

The ads, if not catchy right away, usually drive me away!
If I like an Lite app, I will pay the 99 cents to have it without ads. The maker deserves that at least if I'm going to use it.
The un skippable ads are likely to turn me away!
Kick Butt

I would like to see the option buy with adds for free or without $$ for everything but made only if developer/ artist for (music and video or TV) wants to for me free is free as long as if does what the paid one does.

can't stand regular TV because of all the garbage ads. They are like a vampire, slowly sucking your blood and soul out of you by forcing you to sit through it without the ability to skip them (has anyone calculated how much of their life is wasted sitting through that shite? Gotta be at least a few years). And the annoying jingle ones are my favourite. They truly know how to induce emotional visceral reactions without even trying.
I don't really care thou, if it gives people the option to have something for free, let them waste that time. I won't use 'em. My time is more important to me and I want to spend it the way I see fit, not the way some big brother chooses.

I stopped watching TV 14 years ago because I got sick of the commercials. I quit listening to Pandora through my web browser because they force visual and audio advertisements regularly now. I'll be damned if I'm going to watch them at the beginning of a game I want to play.

NOOOOOOOO!!! The iphone has pushed prices down a bunch. PSP and nintendo games cost $30-$40 each. When I was on windows mobile, I paid from $10-$20 for games. Now most games I buy range from $1-$3. Plus, none of the above platforms has the graphics or additional capabilities of the iphone. Leave it alone!!