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NBCU Launches WatchBack App, Offering Users Who Sample New Shows a Chance to Win Rewards

Would you watch an episode of a show you’ve never heard of — just for the chance to win $100 worth of credits toward gift cards for Amazon.com or Burger King?

NBCUniversal hopes such an offer will create thousands of new fans for its networks’ TV shows with WatchBack, a new app designed as a promotional and research tool. The free WatchBack app launched this week for iOS (available at this link).

The standout feature: Users are eligible to win points for watching “featured episodes” of NBCU shows (as well as shows from partners), which are available in WatchBack for a limited time.

The first sweepstakes is for E!’s new reality show “Ashlee+Evan,” about celeb couple Ashlee Simpson-Ross and Evan Ross, which premiered on the cable net on Sept. 9. If you watch the first two 23-minute episodes (before Oct. 8 at midnight ET), you can be entered into a contest to be one of 10 winners per episode who will win points with a value of $100.

Users can then use redeem those WatchBack points for gift cards from merchants including Amazon, Best Buy, Burger King, Domino’s, eBay, Fandango, Krispy Kreme, Macy’s, NASCAR.com SuperStore, NFL Shop, Papa John’s, SiriusXM, Starbucks, Target, Walmart and Whole Foods.

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WatchBack, in addition to the time-limited full episodes, also is stocked with short video clips from NBCU properties and networks including Bravo, CNBC, E! and E! News, USA, “Access,” Fandango’s Movieclips, MSNBC, NBC Entertainment, NBC News, NBC Sports, Oxygen, Syfy, Telemundo, the “Today” show and USA Network.

It also has lined up more than 60 partners who — why not? — are licensing their content for the WatchBack on a nonexclusive basis. Those include Adventure Sports Network, BuzzFeed’s Nifty and Tasty, PBS’s “America’s Test Kitchen” and “PBS NewsHour,” Black Buddha, Bonnier, IAC’s CollegeHumor, Complex, Endemol, Jukin Media’s FailArmy and The Pet Collective, Fandor, Funny Or Die, HealthiNation, Howcast, IGN, “Inside Edition,” The Laugh Factory, Mashable, MMAjunkie, Newsy, NowThis, Refinery29, ShoutFactoryTV, the U.K.’s Telegraph, VideoJug, Vocativ, and Weelicious.

The app features third-party software, including from Nielsen, to enable tracking of usage statistics, but WatchBack users may opt out of Nielsen measurement. There are preroll ads on some of the content.

As for the name: The tagline in the app’s description is this: “When you want something new to Watch, we’ve got your Back.” But can NBCU deliver on that promise?

NBCU says WatchBack is designed to let you “fall in love with new brands on the channels page.”  The question is whether WatchBack can achieve the goal of growing the fanbase for different shows.

The problem is that the app — with its mish-mash of content, none of which is exclusively available in WatchBack — really feels like a promotional tool, rather than an entertainment app you’d want to spend time with. (One example: You can’t fast-forward or skip back when watching the full-length featured episodes.) And the additional video that WatchBack is stocked with feels like it’s in there mainly to distract you from the real point: to get you hooked on a show you didn’t know about.

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