NBCU Becomes First National Broadcaster to Offer Shoppable Ads

Audiences can use their mobile cameras to buy products on their TV screens

You’ve heard of shoppable ads on social platforms like Instagram, search engines like Google and even video-on-demand platforms like Vudu. Now a national television broadcaster is trying to get in on the action for the first time.

NBCUniversal is rolling out shoppable ads that will let marketing partners direct NBC viewers to product pages on their mobile devices. The shoppable ad unit, called ShoppableTV, works when viewers point their mobile cameras toward QR codes that appear onscreen during NBC programming and commercials.

From there, a pop-up will redirect viewers to their mobile browser, where a product page gives viewers a way to view the product in more detail and, if they choose, purchase the item on their mobile devices.

“It’s all about combining the power of television with the shopping ability of mobile,” Josh Feldman, NBCU’s executive vice president and head of marketing and advertising creative, said in an interview with Adweek.

Feldman demoed the product to reporters using a furniture retailer who has not yet signed on as a partner. In the demo, a QR code appeared in the bottom-right-hand corner of a still from NBC’s The Voice on which the rehearsal space set was adorned with the retailer’s furniture. Holding up the camera on an iOS device redirected to the retailer’s website, where more product information for the furniture appeared onscreen.

ShoppableTV will be available for both in-show integration and through “custom pod takeovers” where a single brand takes over a 60- or 90-second ad pod to promote shoppable products, Feldman said. The QR code-based ad unit will work on iOS devices and some Android phones that have QR code compatibility, but not all Android phones will be able to read the QR code.

QR codes will appear onscreen for about 30 seconds, to give viewers enough time to pull out their phones and navigate to the shoppable pages, NBCU said. To instruct viewers on how the ads work, the ads will include either a show host offering instructions or a message appearing in the lower third of the screen explaining how to scan the QR code.

NBCU will be able to track the number of redirects from the QR code to the retailer’s site and will drop cookies into users’ browsers to track the purchases for which they are responsible, and NBCU will receive a percentage of sales revenue generated through the ads. Feldman declined to disclose the percentage NBC planned to take, since no deals had been signed as of last Friday.

A ShoppableTV prototype aired April 17 on NBC’s Today during a “Steals and Deals” segment with host Savannah Guthrie and contributor Jill Martin. During the segment, Martin directed viewers to hold up their phone’s camera to scan a QR code onscreen, which redirected to the “Steals and Deals” website. The test resulted in about 50,000 scans in five minutes, Feldman said.

Other than the test run on Today, ShoppableTV hasn’t run live on other NBCU network programming to date. But the company’s networks—including Bravo, CNBC Prime, NBC, NBC Sports, Telemundo and USA Network—are open for business. The company intends to help brands customize shoppable ads that will best fit the retailer and the program.

NBCU hopes the interactive ad unit will attract both traditional retailers, whom they are approaching first, and direct-to-consumer brands who might not have previously advertised on television or cut traditional 30-second television ads.

“We’re not limited in any way, shape or form just to the retail category that are television advertisers,” Feldman said.

The new offering is the latest instance of NBC iterating on ad formats and coming up with less-than-traditional television ad opportunities. Last year, the broadcaster rolled out a premium targeted ad unit, called a “prime pod,” that ran for 60 seconds during the first or last programming breaks of its original programming. The broadcaster has twice cut back on the amount of ad time during its prime-time programming hours.

A month ago, NBCUniversal rolled out a new content commerce marketplace with Golf Channel, called Shop With Golf, which enables viewers to shop from more than 30 brands.

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.