NBCU Taps PayPal to Help Spur TV Audiences to E-Shop

Brian Steinberg
·4-min read

Will legions of remote-wielding TV viewers start to think of their set-top box or broadband hub as a kind of shopping cart?

NBCUniversal struck a partnership with PayPal that it says will make the relatively new concept of buying items suggested by TV programs easier and quicker, part of a growing bid by the Comcast-owned media conglomerate to generate new revenue at a time when the business of soliciting TV advertising is in flux.

After launching e-commerce efforts earlier this year on its Syfy cable network and in October on Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo, NBCUniversal now intends to use a PayPal payments system to help consumers purchase goods from a marketplace of more than 60 retailers who will be able to flag products at various appropriate instances across all of its media holdings. As part of that agreement, PayPal will highlight shoppable gift guides featured online on Bravo, E!, NBC Sports, Syfy, Telemundo, and “Today,” and in shoppable TV segments during programs such as “LatinX Now,” “Un Nuevo Dia,” “En Casa con Telemundo,” “SyfyWire After Dark,” and “Daily Pop” on E!

“Our mindset is that we want to open up NBCU as a new storefront for retailers of all kinds, and give them access to sell directly to passionate fans,” says Josh Feldman, NBCUniversal’s executive vice president and head of marketing and advertising creative, in an interview.

More media companies skilled in the business of transmitting dramas, comedies, news and sports events to viewers hope to harness new interactivity available thanks to mobile and broadband technology and create lines of business very different from the ones that helped them rise originally. Fox Corporation, for example, has formed Fox Bet, a mobile sports-wagering partnership operated in conjunction with Flutter Entertainment, the parent of the popular online-betting platform FanDuel, that it hopes prompts TV viewers to get more engaged with sports matches and even live news events.

NBCU’s technology allows consumers to make purchases through links found in social and branded content or by scanning a code that pops up on screen with a smartphone, an action that takes them to an online shopping portal where they can complete a purchase. The expectation is that seeing the product highlighted during a TV moment will spur viewers to seek out a way to make the transaction.

Developing an e-commerce business could give the company a different line of cash as advertisers place new emphasis on streaming video hubs, which traditionally run fewer commercials than their linear-TV counterparts. Like other TV companies operating during the coronavirus pandemic, NBCUniversal had to contend with a difficult “upfront” ad-sales negotiation in 2020 that offered a smaller volume of advance advertising commitments than in previous years. “We ended slightly up on price, slightly down on volume,” said Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, speaking during a recent call with investors, noting that recent ad sales were driven by “choppiness and decline.”

The e-commerce venture adds to the businesses overseen by Linda Yaccarino, NBCU’s chairman of global advertising and partnerships, who has been charged with creating a new data strategy for the large media company. Tracking purchases of goods across networks and media windows would give the company a new stream of consumer information that could aid in that initiative.

The companies taking part include Our Place, a maker of cookware, and Koio, a luxury leather sneaker manufacturer. NBCU’s Feldman believes some NBCU talent may also get involved, particularly in the case of reality-show participants who have branched out to sell their own goods. Craig Conover, from the Bravo series “Southern Charm,” sells pillows and other goods through his Sewing Down South, which will also take part in the shopping venture.

Executives believe consumer acceptance of this new shopping technology will be “accelerated” by the pandemic, says Feldman. The company estimates retailers, consumer-products marketers and direct-to-consumer companies spend more than $50 billion on commerce enabled by social venues such as Google, Amazon and Facebook. Marketers allocate more than 40% of their ad budgets to those sites, some of which NBCU hopes to capture.

Not every NBCU program is appropriate for shopping, says Feldman. He expects the company to keep shopping prompts away from its hard news programs on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC, and to be wary of placing shopping prompts in content aimed at children. “You’re never going to see this in ‘Nightly News’ with Lester Holt,” says Feldman. “We are looking for the appropriate brand at the appropriate time.”

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