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I'm Sorry to Say This Whole Consumable Ads Nightmare Is Coming to Your TV Set Soon

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Image for article titled I'm Sorry to Say This Whole Consumable Ads Nightmare Is Coming to Your TV Set Soon
Illustration: NBCUniversal

Just when we thought that so-called shoppable content was the worst conceivable concept for the near-term entertainment future that awaits us, NBCUniversal has stepped in to further disrupt this increasingly hellish advertising space.

NBCUniversal on Monday announced the launch of its ShoppableTV product, a QR code-based ads model that allows viewers to shop the media they’re watching in what the Comcast-owned entertainment company called a first for national television. This ad model will center on what it describes as “shoppable moments,” when viewers will be able to scan a screen using their phones and instantly be directed to a brand’s web store or marketplace. Sounds great, right? Who doesn’t love ads and QR codes?!


“With ShoppableTV, NBCUniversal is transcending the legacy business practices of television and driving business outcomes by creating an on-air real-time commerce experience,” Josh Feldman, NBCUniversal’s Executive Vice President and Head of Marketing and Advertising Creative, said in a statement by email. “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.”

Imagine this: You’re watching The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and in the middle of a bit you are served a QR code for paper towels. Scan and hit that buy button, baby! You could get them down the street but who cares to walk, anyway? TechCrunch cited the company as saying that during a test run, the ad model raked in sales of up to six figures “within minutes.” (We’re kidding of course—we know you’re not watching The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.)


This is merely the latest iteration of the ad-engagement nightmare that’s slowly enveloping all forms of entertainment. The Walmart-owned streaming service Vudu is reportedly planning to peddle “shoppable content” within its ad-supported platform—which itself seems like a uniquely awful form of advertising before we learned that NBCUniversal was fully prepared to raise the bar on consumerism. Amazon, too, is betting big on ads with its video-streaming service IMDb Freedive and its new music streaming service for Alexa-enabled devices (its competitor to Spotify’s free tier). And when it comes to Amazon and Walmart, video streaming is small potatoes compared to their primary business. The synergy of interactive ads that take you directly to online purchases is too incredible to resist.

The services and entertainment spaces at large are increasingly competitive and overcrowded. As more and more companies try to muscle their way into the fray for our attention, they’re fighting against not only established titans like Netflix and Hulu but newbies like Apple TV+ and Disney+, the latter of which have plenty of loyal consumers who are ready to cough up the dough to access their services. And that means media companies who do want to compete in this space and survive are having to get crafty about their sources of revenue.

Would you really want to pay for NBC if you could get most of its shows on Hulu in a bundle with ESPN and Disney+? Viewers already hate ads, particularly those viewers who are willing to pay a monthly or yearly subscription to do away with them entirely. What this creates is a need for novelty as well as some way to convince advertisers that a given service is a place they should pony up to reach viewers, instead of, say, virtually any other service or outlet out there also competing for ears and eyeballs.

Seemingly, each week brings some new form of advertising engagement in our various forms of entertainment (I’m looking at you, Spotify), all of which are designed to persuade us to speak to, click on, or scan an ad. Hell, a Facebook patent last year presented a uniquely terrifying scenario in which someone’s phone microphone could be triggered by an ad using an otherwise unidentifiable “ambient audio fingerprint or signature,” which it would then use to approximate ad effectiveness.


Ads are already hell. They’re everywhere, constantly vying for our attention in a sea of other ads. When compared to whatever unimaginable terror Facebook is dreaming up to make it McDuck vault-levels of money, QR codes do seem kind of tame. Even still, in-entertainment shopping schemes are no less shitty or disruptive.