A screenshot from NBCUniversal's demo video for its new @homeShopping product.

NBC’s Must-See TV campaign was so popular in the ’90s, it came to symbolize pre-internet culture for a whole generation. Now in the digital era, parent company NBCUniversal wants to create another cultural touchstone, this time by fusing tech-driven commerce with its media empire.

On Thursday, it revealed its latest step toward making that vision a reality.

The initiative, which NBCU calls the One Platform Commerce, held a key spot in the company’s latest crop of product announcements, primarily for its new @homeShopping product. The augmented reality-driven feature aims to turn passive viewers into active shoppers.

Here’s how it works: People scan the onscreen code using their mobile devices, and the technology activates a special NBCU link that puts an interactive, 360-degree view of a product onscreen. Users can see it in their own room, giving them a more realistic sense of the item, whether shoes and bags or furniture and cars. The system also works over streaming TV, though in a slightly different manner, with smartphone or tablet-wielding users tapping to launch the experience instead of scanning.

“Being able to now, as we look at the code — and the code being able to be recognized on the cameras of Androids and Apples, and having the phone be that proverbial universal remote — you can scan that and then have that deep immersive experience, where you’re literally bringing a virtual closet into wherever you’re viewing content, into the couch, into the living room, into the bedroom with the tablet, and so forth,” Collette Winn, vice president of creative partnerships in NBCUniversal’s Commerce and Innovation, Advertising and Partnerships group, told WWD.

“You’re able, not only to be immersed in the products themselves and have that full 3D AR technology to bring those products to life, but then with a click in the experience, you’re also able to shop them,” she said. “So it’s not just about a cool factor. It’s really being able to shop [directly] in that immersive, experiential experience.”

The launch represents an evolution of the company’s One Platform Commerce shopping strategy. Although it has been steadily developing in stages, the overall effort itself is actually relatively nascent.

“We’ve been working on our commerce initiatives for about a year and a half now,” said Josh Feldman, chief marketing officer of advertising and partnerships at NBCUniversal. “We rolled out Shoppable TV as our first initiative and last August, we rolled out NBCU Checkout, which now allows us to make any appropriate piece of content into a shoppable experience — whether that’s linear, whether that’s digital, whether that’s social, whether it’s English language, Spanish language, editorial or branded content.”

As a media giant, the conglomerate has a whole empire studded with stations, channels and other divisions, including sports and movies, to leverage. The list is long and includes NBC, E!, USA Network, Syfy, Bravo, Telemundo, Golf Channel, Universal Studios and many other entertainment assets, including its own streaming service, Peacock. And on the social commerce side, it’s partnering with the biggest network in the world: Facebook.

The company disclosed the partnership during its inaugural One21 event, essentially the conglomerate’s tech developer conference for commerce, advertising and entertainment. The deal marks NBCU Checkout’s integration with Facebook, so people can shop with NBCU whether over its own platforms or through its Facebook and Instagram accounts.

As for why it’s investing so deeply in commerce, the answer seems twofold.

On one hand, people seem to crave new and interesting ads. According to the company’s data, 93 percent of viewers appreciate commercial innovations compared to standard ad formats, 79 percent are less likely to change the channel and 88 percent of consumers retain strong brand memorability.

But beyond that, it’s important to note that NBCU takes a cut of all shopping transactions conducted through its Checkout product. It declined to say how much, but with its extensive reach across properties — Peacock alone brought in 33 million sign-ups as of January 2021 — there’s clearly potential to drive an enormous amount of revenue.

“[Now NBCU] really sits at the crossroads of being a media company and a technology company,” said Feldman. At One21, it made its ambitions plain, calling out initiatives like the Facebook deal, the roll-out of commerce to all of its local-owned station groups, as well as debuts like the current launches on deck.

‘The ultimate vision is to really, truly collapse that purchase funnel and own every single layer of it here at NBCUniversal,” he continued. “I think previously, brands thought of us solely as a mechanism to get their brand messaging out there and raise awareness. But now we have the ability to truly complete that full purchase funnel, and have the purchasing and the actual transactions happen in real time. So we’re building out a full ‘one platform’ capability that makes any appropriate piece of content shoppable.”

So far, its marketplace serves more than 100 brands. Because they’re part of One Platform Commerce, their products stand ready to drop into any new shoppable experience. This detail is “really, really key for us,” Feldman added.

Although the e-commerce business could work for advertisers, roughly 95 percent of these brands don’t come from those ranks. Feldman describes them as partners that just value the NBCU audience and its intellectual property.

The company will work closely with brands to find appropriate spots, the executives emphasized, as well as showrunners, if it makes sense to run activations like @homeShopping during a TV program.

Previously, it has found moments in sports, as well as other content such as reality shows. In 2019, it brought Shoppable TV to Golf Channel and partnered with Lacoste on an integration for the French Open. It also worked with dpHue hair care brand for a shoppable moment in Kristin Cavallari’s “Very Cavallari” on E!

During the coronavirus era, the company launched a partnership with PayPal, in addition to debuting NBCU Checkout, which makes sense, as the coronavirus has amplified e-commerce. But the pandemic may also complicate things.

Like so many other businesses, NBCUniversal has had to cut hundreds of staffers in Los Angeles between 2020 and 2021 so far. It’s also not clear how things will change, now that the CDC has changed its guidance to lift social-distancing restrictions for vaccinated people. While that’s great news for the public, it could mean a smaller captive audience of viewers, as people head out to restaurants, live events and other activities.

Regardless, NBCU is plowing ahead … and looking for ways to bring more shopping into the equation.

The opportunities look broader now, in light of the company’s other announcements.

The list includes Look Live, which lets advertisers spin up content quickly in reaction to real-time data; Stay in Show, a service that fits a brand’s video or other creative as part of a TV show and put an additional layer of information or features for some viewers using geo-targeting; Interactive Scripted Commercial Launches that puts 2D and 3D branded or product images in transitions between shows and commercials, and Take:15, a “grab-the-mic” branded moment where a show’s celebrity tells a joke, offers a tip or otherwise segues into a commercial spot.

But what may be primed best for commerce could be Choose Your Destiny, an audience participation mechanism akin to choose-your-own-adventure stories, with social votes determining the ad experiences shown next.

For Winn, that’s ripe for Checkout, especially for apparel and cosmetics brands.

“Fashion and beauty are two incredible, obviously supported categories for NBC Checkout, where you could really lean into [this],” she said. “Do you want to see this bold look for beauty? Or do you want to see a little bit more of the muted colors? Do you want to see what’s happening in this red carpet trend, and then choose which you prefer?

“And then honestly, from that, we can also make that shoppable and have the cart roll out, right from that digital video experience, on our comm space,” she added. “So it doesn’t have to be one way — it doesn’t have to just be linear social voting, and then have that commercial in the following pod be revealed. It can also have a very cool shoppable, interactive capability within the digital space.”