NBCU Goes Retail With Move Into ShoppableTV

NBCUniversal, looking to demonstrate TV can make cash registers ring, is introducing ShoppableTV, which lets viewers use their mobile phone to buy advertisers’ products when they’re shown on screen during specially-produced content.

TV commerce has long been a dream for the television business. The idea of being able to buy the sweater Jennifer Aniston is wearing on Friends has been around even longer than Friends.

Now, a week before the upfront ad sales period, NBCU, part of Comcast, said it is able to let viewers shop from the living rooms via technology that is being used for the first time on national television to facilitate direct sales. Unlike some other e-commerce systems, this one bypasses the networks’ distribution partners, simplifying both the technology needed and the business relationships.

ShoppableTV moments can occur during shows or during commercial breaks. Viewers will see a QR Code on screen and can interact using the camera on their phone. NBCU will collect fees for producing the shoppable moments, and also get a percentage of sales directly generated by ShoppableTV.

NBCU networks including NBC, NBC Sports, Telemundo, E!, CNBC Prime and USA will be participate in ShoppableTV over the next months.

The move into on-screen TV commerce comes amid NBCU’s efforts to make TV advertising smarter and give its audiences a better viewing experience.

NBCU has been pushing to have advertisers use data to better target viewers and to find ways to better evaluate the success of campaigns using NBCU’s network.

“This is really another step that NBCU is taking and transcending legacy business practices of television,” said Josh Feldman, executive VP, head of marketing and advertising creative at NBCU.

“We’re quickly moving from selling [gross ratings points] to actually proving business outcomes and this allows marketers for the first time ever to sell directly to our audiences in an in-show experience, or it could be in a commercial time experience,” Feldman said. “We think this is a huge new business model for us.”

NBCU has been doing some e-commerce, most recently with its Shop with Golf marketplace created with Golf Channel.

Feldman said ShoppableTV proved that TV advertising not only creates awareness and consideration for brands--marketers call this the top of the marketing funnel--but can also drive transactions, which is something digital advertising gets credit for because of clicks on a website are easily counted.

For ShoppableTV, NBCU will create content that in context with programming, showcases the items advertisers want to sell.

During The Voice, for example, a retailer could outfit the show’s rehearsal space with items from a particular retailer or marketer. An announcer will let viewers know they can buy things in the room and a QR Code will appear. Viewers who point their phone at the code will be connected to the vendors web site.

NBCU can also create ShoppableTV content that would air during commercial time. In that case, the advertiser would pay a fee for production, the cost of the commercial time and a percentage of sales to NBCU.

The ShoppableTV opportunity is open to both traditional TV advertisers and to the new breed of direct-to-consumer marketers that have sprung up.

“It could be any business. They don’t even need to have a television commercial. We could still create an in-show experience for them that drives to their site,” Feldman said.

Feldman said NBCU has not yet determined what percentage of sales it would get from ShoppableTV.

“We've literally just put this out there for the first time ever this past week. So we're not at the negotiation stage yet to talk about exactly where what percentage of sale we would take,” Feldman said.

NBCU tested its ShoppableTV about two weeks ago during a Mother’s Day gift edition of the Jill’s Steals and Deals segment on the Today show.

The ShoppableTV segment lasted less than five minutes, but it generated fifty thousand scans, Feldman said. NBCU rang up sales in the “hundreds of thousands” from people using the code to buy handbags, home goods and other items on top of the sales the Jill’s Steals and Deals segment usually generates.

Feldman said it was too soon for NBCU to give meaningful advice as to whether it would be smart for ShoppableTV clients to also buy traditional ads in order to maximize sales.

It was unclear as to whether or not ShoppableTV would help NBCU fulfill its promise to reduce ad clutter in its programming.

“Everything that we're doing here is absolutely about improving the viewing experience. So this is the next step in improving the viewing experience from that point of view,” he said.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.