NBCU Looks to Clear Clutter With ‘WatchBack’

Streaming app lets viewers win retail rewards for watching shows
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With more than 200 over-the-top platforms currently available to consumers, you wouldn’t necessarily think another one could be used to battle through the vast clutter of consumer choice.

NBCU's "WatchBack' app

NBCU's "WatchBack' app

But that’s exactly what NBCUniversal wants to accomplish with WatchBack, a new app-based over-the-top service that entices users to watch shows with a chance to win rewards points redeemable at national retail and dining locations.

Now available for Apple and Android mobile devices, WatchBack launched earlier with sweepstakes surrounding the new E! reality series Ashlee+Evan. Those who streamed the series’ first two 23-minute episodes over a 72-hour period were entered to be among 10 winners of $100 rewards-point prizes. Similar sweepstakes have been launched around the CNBC special Warren Buffett: Investor. Teacher. Icon and the Oxygen series The Killing of Jessica Chambers.

In addition to promoting shows on its own cable networks, NBCU is working with partners — mostly programmers of internet-based platforms — including BuzzFeed, CollegeHumor, Complex Networks, IGN, Jukin Media, Mashable and Refinery20.

As for the points viewers win, those are redeemable at outlets including Amazon, Best Buy, Burger King, Domino’s, eBay, Fandango, Krispy Kreme, Macy’s, NASCAR.com Super- Store, NFL Shop, Papa John’s, SiriusXM, Starbucks, Target, Walmart and Whole Foods.

NBCU executives said they’re doing little to promote their new platform. And they certainly have little ambition for it to compete with Netflix and Hulu. WatchBack is seen primarily as a sampling tool, a way to find mobile viewers who may not be as reachable with traditional on-air promotion.

“Our research has shown that because there are so many options available, many great new shows have trouble finding an audience,” NBCU vice president of insights and strategy Andrew Hanna said. “Our goal for WatchBack is to make it a little easier for consumers to try out new programs for the first time and create fans for us and our partners.”

Perhaps just as important is WatchBack’s ability to gather user data. During the setup process, not only does the app learn the user’s email address, mobile number and gender (the better to send them push notifications with), but also their favorite programming genres and channels.

“I’m a bit surprised that we haven’t seen this approach previously,” Brett Sappington, senior analyst for Parks Associates, said. “Content creators often have a strong sense of what demographics will find a show appealing (and if it is a hit), but they are still surprised at times. WatchBack gives them a more accurate measure of popularity and the audiences that will be interested.”

NBCU isn’t yet selling advertising on the platform, or charging its digital programming partners any money for the opportunity to mine data on it. That could come soon, though, with viewership on WatchBack measured by Nielsen.

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