NBCUniversal wants to take comic book fans and sci-fi geeks on a shopping trip.
Viewers who watch the special “Syfy Wire After Dark” on Saturday, August 1, will have a chance to buy some of the goods featured on screen – without having to visit a store. The show, hosted by Jackie Jennings and her talking cat sidekick, Mr. Scribbles (above, pictured), marks the debut of new interactive technology NBCUniversal has been developing that gives the audience a chance to scan a code on screen with a smartphone, an action that takes them to an online shopping portal where they can complete a purchase. Viewers who see the show stream will be able to get to the shopping area even more directly, simply by clicking interactive links.
“Fans love stuff, schwag. We love to buy all the cool things,” says Sandy Deane, senior vice president of Syfy Wire. “If you’re coming to Syfy Wire and reading about the latest and greatest in geekdom and sci-fi, fantasy and horror, we will also be able to curate for you the latest and greatest products.” Viewers will be able to purchase graphic novels from Dark Horse Comics, limited edition sunglasses from goodr, and products based on DC characters like Superman and The Sandman from Graphitti Designs
If those don’t sound like the usual advertisers one might see on TV, that’s OK with the television company that has enlisted them in the new venture, which it calls NBCUniversal Checkout. “Part of the reason we were so bullish on building out this capability was because we wanted to extend the long tail of conversations that we can have with a number of different brands that, quite frankly, aren’t national TV advertisers, but really value our audience,” says Josh Feldman, executive vice president and head of marketing and advertising creative at NBCUniversal.
The executive says NBCU is in talks with a number of brands that it hopes will take part in a broader “retail marketplace” that it can highlight by including links or codes in shows where viewers might be eager to explore a chance to buy something. Over time, says Feldman, the company can envision making available the chance to shop on networks such as its Golf Channel or Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo. The company unveiled the concept it calls “Shoppable TV” in 2019.
NBCU is just the latest distributor of content to experiment with new ways of weaving marketing into its systems. Amazon and Roku already use interactive, on-screen banners their users can click to be taken to an opportunity to have a code or coupon sent to them or get a sneak preview of a movie in exchange for watching some advertising. Some ads on Hulu prompt viewers to use their remote control to learn more information about a product or service being advertised.
NBCU’s effort is notable because it is one of the nation’s biggest traditional media companies, and has over the decades built the business of placing video commercials around its programming into a business worth nearly $7 billion. But viewers have grown more weary of and resistant to commercials that interrupt programming, especially when streaming services often run fewer ads.
The key to the technique seems to be ensuring viewers won’t mind the invitation to make a purchase. At Syfy, “we would not want to offer products that we didn’t think our fans would be super into,” says Deane. “People in fandom will call you out for being inauthentic. They won’t tolerate it. We take that really seriously.” Syfy intends to use “Checkout” in a weekly shoppable editorial series on SyfyWire.com, where shoppable articles will be curated in an online hub,