Free App Trials During COVID19: Where Are They Now?

Angela Humphrey
Angela Humphrey | August 14, 2020
Director of Business Development

As part of promotional strategies to persuade people to stay home and acquire a newly captive audience, many apps began offering extended free trials at the beginning of lockdown. How did these promotional strategies work out? We’ve chosen apps that offered promotional trials in 3 different verticals when Shelter-in-Place measures began in the U.S. Using data from Apptopia, we’ve analyzed how these brands have fared since their promotions, and compiled some suggestions on what they should do now to keep users engaged after the novelty of shelter-at-home restrictions have worn off.

Streaming Apps: HBO GO

In early April, HBO made almost 500 hours of top programming available to stream for free for a limited time on HBO NOW and HBO GO without a subscription. This promotion was branded with #StayHomeBoxOffice to persuade users to mind lockdown restrictions. Strategically, HBO also timed this promotion to coincide with the launch of its new streaming service HBO Max streaming service just weeks later.

The list of provided programming included every episode of iconic HBO series like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under as well as major blockbusters like Pokémon Detective Pikachu and The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

HBO GO Downloads & DAU

Source: Apptopia

According to data from Apptopia, there was a marked boost in app installs and daily active users inline with when HBO launched its #StayHomeBoxOffice promotion on April 2, 2020. On April 7, 2020, HBO Go drove 7.87K installs, a 28% increase from its pre-lockdown daily downloads. Later in the month on April 29, HBO GO drove a high of 8.18K downloads. This was only 5.5% less than its previous lockdown record of 8.66K daily downloads on March 28, 2020. On May 11, HBO GO reached a high of 223.55K daily active users, a 12% increase from pre-lockdown levels. 

While these boosts in acquisition and engagement indicate the initial success of its promotional strategy, HBO GO’s downloads have since trended below pre-lockdown levels. It’s DAU is also at a record low for the year as of August 8 2020.

Both trends suggest that it’s time for HBO to invest in re-engagement campaigns to remind users who downloaded its app at the beginning of lockdown to come back for more content.

HBO Max Downloads & DAU

Source: Apptopia

Interestingly, HBO Max launched just a few weeks after HBO announced its #StayHomeBoxOffice promotion. The platform experienced a marked spike after its release and steady rise in DAU. This could explain HBO GO’s steady decline as more users moved to HBO Max for a new variety of content.  

Wellness Apps: Headspace

On April 6, 2020, the guided meditation and mindfulness app, Headspace, launched a landing page offering five meditations, three meditations for kids, and five sleep experiences, free of charge. 

The app also began offering free premium subscriptions to healthcare providers through 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic (March 16, 2020). 

On March 24, 2020, Headspace reached a high of 55.08K downloads. This was only 15% below its peak in the last year (65.25K). Its daily active users were also at a high of 2.26M.

Since this boom in downloads and engagement, Headspace has fallen to its lowest point both in terms of downloads and daily engagement in the last year. As of August 8, downloads had dipped down to 19.59K and DAU to 1.66M. Both these numbers are far below pre-lockdown levels.

Headspace Downloads & DAU

Source: Headspace

Despite decreases in downloads and DAU, Headspace does show retention rates much higher than the average. By Day 7, on iOS, Headspace shows a 17.6% retention rate, higher than the 10.9% average rate of the top 100 apps. By Day 30, on iOS, Headspace shows 16.3% retention, more than double the average rate of the top 100 apps on iOS which average 7.6%, respectively.

It does seem that when users download Headspace, they keep the app  on their phones for future use. That said, there is an opportunity to re-engage these users and increase DAU numbers through personalized messaging that prompts the user to engage with the app. Headspace could leverage messaging that encourages users to invest in their continued mental health and wellness as the pandemic continues. 

Fitness Apps: Peloton

The Peloton app began offering a 90-day trial of its subscription in mid-March, as coronavirus precautions began to limit people’s ability to attend classes and gyms. This represented an expansion of its normal 30-day free trial period. Subscriptions cost $13 a month. The trial did not require people to own a Peloton-branded treadmill or bike. The promotion offered a variety of alternative classes including meditation, stretching, and strength training.

Peloton Downloads & DAU

Source: Peloton

Peloton’s downloads and DAU began climbing following lockdown measures, inline with its promotion. On March 20, Peloton reached a whopping 18.85K downloads, a 390% increase from pre-lockdown levels. The app reached a high on daily active users on May 3, with 410.09K users. This was an 88% increase from pre-lockdown levels.

Downloads and engagement of the app dipped until July, which saw an uptick in downloads. This pick up in engagement was further reflected by its daily active users, which also starting trending up in August, reflecting the uptick in installs. 

The app also shows retention rates inline with Day 7 and Day 30 rates of the top overall apps. With an investment in re-engagement campaigns, Peloton could maximize the churned users who did not renew once the trial period expired. 

Takeaways

Many apps began offering extended free trials at the beginning of lockdown. How did these promotional strategies work out?

  • HBO GO: On April 7, 2020, HBO Go drove 7.87K installs, a 28% increase from its pre-lockdown daily downloads. On May 11, HBO GO reached a high of 223.55K daily active users, a 12% increase from pre-lockdown levels. 
    • While this boost indicates the initial success of its promotional strategy, HBO GO’s downloads have since trended below pre-lockdown levels. It’s DAU is also at a record low for the year as of August 8 2020.
  • Headspace: On March 24, 2020, Headspace reached a high of 55.08K downloads. This was only 15% below its peak in the last year (65.25K). Its daily active users were also at a high of 2.26M.
    • Since this boom in downloads and engagement, Headspace has fallen to its lowest point both in downloads and daily engagement.
    • Headspace does show retention rates much higher than the average, indicating a massive opportunity to invest in re-engagement campaigns to get users to reopen the app on their phones.
  • Peloton:  On March 20, Peloton reached a whopping 18.85K downloads, a more than 390% increase from pre-lockdown levels. The app reached a high on daily active users on May 3, with 410.09K users. This was an 88% increase from pre-lockdown levels.
    • After a downwards trend in downloads and engagement, the Peloton app has leveled out and started trending up since July. The bump further indicates the need to continue the re-engagement push and continue investing in the upwards trend.

These trends indicate apps that launched free trial promotions should invest in re-engagement campaigns. This will maximize the new users it acquired at the beginning of the pandemic.