Television and cable networks have been trying to sell viewers products through entertainment and sports programming on the tube for more than a dozen years, and now NBC Universal is trying again.

The network on Monday revealed that it is launching Shoppable TV, a shopping experience that gives viewers the opportunity to purchase products within the organic environment of their favorite show. NBC used words such as “revolutionary” and “innovative” to describe the capability. However, the demo, which lasts 12 seconds and shows a TV remote activating a QR code, with the next visual showing nine boxes with a tiny shopping cart next to each one, seems low-tech. The demo doesn’t even have any sound.

The technology promises to redefine the purchase funnel for NBC Universal partners, and allows viewers to shop in a new way. Further, NBC Universal said this is the first time the technology will be used on national television to activate direct sales.

Network television and their parent companies such as NBC Universal have struggled to keep up with cable networks such as HBO and Showtime, streaming services such as Netflix, and even e-commerce sites such as Amazon, which has emerged as a powerful player on the awards scene, with Walmart now entering the fray.

To activate Shoppable TV, during NBCUniversal programming, viewers will be alerted to hold their phone cameras up to the screen during an “On-Air Shoppable Moment.” They will then be taken directly to a marketer’s site for purchase, the company said, adding that many NBC Universal networks plan to participate in Shoppable TV over the coming months including NBC, NBC Sports, Telemundo, Bravo, E! which offers red carpet coverage of tonight’s Met Ball, CNBC Prime and USA Network.

“With Shoppable TV, NBC Universal is transcending the legacy business practices of television and driving business outcomes by creating an on-air real-time commerce experience,” Josh Feldman, executive vice president, head of marketing and advertising creative of NBC Universal, said in a statement. “By pairing brands with our premium content, owning every stage of the purchase funnel and removing the barriers consumers traditionally encounter between seeing a product and making a purchase, we’re giving marketers a direct sales channel to millions of viewers across the country.”

New advertising and retail models have been under way for quite some time, but they’ve become paramount with the ascension of online video, an environment that makes shopping a one-click proposition. It’s one reason that Google-owned YouTube has become a vast empire on its own. Now, it’s stepping up efforts to move in on TV’s turf.

During its Brandcast presentation on Thursday, YouTube urged advertisers to move more of their $70 billion in TV ad spending to digital. It’s also promising a burgeoning spate of original content to support those ads, not just on smartphones and tablets, but on televisions.

TV screens are YouTube’s “fastest-growing platform,” said Tara Walpert Levy, vice president of agency solutions for Google and YouTube. More than 200 million hours of YouTube content are watched on those living room screens. In a first for the video-streaming service, it’s selling Google Preferred inventory for connected TVs only.

Naturally, the living room remains a core focus for NBC. “Ninety-three percent of NBC’s total audience viewership occurs on a TV and 33 percent of that consumption is digital,” said a NBC spokeswoman.

The challenge of TV’s “lean-back” experience is giving viewers an easy way to engage. Turning TV viewers into shoppers can be harder than it looks, and even tougher to track.

Previously, the impact television had on conversion was unknown, Feldman told WWD. The company tested a shoppable moment a few weeks ago on “The Today Show,” with one segment featuring a code that drove traffic to Jill’s Steals and Deals. “They had 50,000 scans,” he said. “It had that impact at 8:30 in the morning, in just under five minutes. Imagine what would happen if we did ‘The Voice.'”

While QR codes may not be high technology, they’ve remained a favorite among retailers and marketers for their simplicity, immediacy and high trackability.

For NBC Universal, it’s just the latest step in a longer journey to retail. The company is exploring a variety of different ways its intellectual property can power commerce opportunities.

“Three to four weeks ago now, we launched ShopwithGolf.com, which is more of a marketplace [with] a universal shopping cart,” Feldman said. He described it as a commerce hub for the whole golfing lifestyle — such as what to wear on and off the course.

“We’re creating original content that’s shoppable. We create original video and editorial pieces that are shoppable. And we allow the retail brands that are part of it to use the original content in their own ways, if they want to use it,” he added. “We’re attacking commerce from a number of different angles, because that’s the future. We need to break through the legacy business practices of television, and futureproof [it].”

 

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