Tuesday, October 9, 2018, 2:18 PM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
Last Friday, NBCUniversal officially launched WatchBack, an iOS-only video app that’s meant to gather data on viewing behaviors while offering users a broad range of content and the opportunity to win weekly sweepstakes. It’s an intriguing new spin on how content providers can mine value from direct-to-consumer apps in order to optimize their programming.
I spent a little time with WatchBack and found it to be easy to use with a variety of content providers and programs to choose from. Upon opening the app for the first time, I was asked to register, primarily so I could begin participating in the weekly sweepstakes. However I was able to proceed without registering, though I was required to select my 3 favorite genres, so WatchBack could start recommending content.
In addition to content from all the NBCU networks, there are also choices from established brands like America’s Test Kitchen, College Humor, Newsy and PBS NewsHour, among others. Other providers such as Adventure Sports Network, Extra History, King and Generals and MojoPlays are less well-known.
The most interesting aspect of WatchBack is the sweepstakes, where users are given a chance to win points with a value of $100 in exchange for watching content (the first episodes being promoted this way are from E!’s Ashlee+Evan and Model Squad). Winners must then redeem their points for gift cards at retailers and restaurants like Amazon, Best Buy, Burger King, Domino’s, Starbucks, Target and others.
The idea of incenting users to sample new shows is intriguing and especially for existing fans of E! (or other networks that subsequently feature programs). Given the proliferation of choices viewers face today, breaking through and gaining attention is harder than ever. To be sure, people always love the chance to win something.
However, in WatchBack’s case, the idea that the points must be redeemed with third parties creates a bit more complexity than usual. A far simpler and more compelling offer would be to just offer winners $100 cash prizes or cash-equivalent gift cards. It’s not clear to me why WatchBack would complicate things by requiring redemption with third parties (though I do know sweepstakes are governed by all kinds of arcane state regulations, so the external redemption path may have been the only viable for a national rollout).
At the end of the day, WatchBack will be yet another interesting video experiment to watch unfold. I give NBCU credit for continuing to innovate, especially since their track record is mixed (who remembers the short-lived Seeso project?). For sure if NBCU gets traction with WatchBack, we’ll see a host of imitators.