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How the smartphone ‘Swiss Army knife’ will unlock shoppable TV

Cover image for How the smartphone ‘Swiss Army knife’ will unlock shoppable TV

Photo: Nick ter Haar

Photo of Ben Woods
by Ben Woods

MIDiA has predicted that streaming TV services will make big strides with shoppable TV in 2024. Key to that success will be the smartphone. An attempt by the likes of Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Disney to integrate an online shopping browser directly into their SVOD operating systems would be a misstep. It would lead to unnecessary technological integration costs and add another layer of complexity to the streaming TV operating system. It would also be at odds  with the need to focus on making it easier for consumers to find content.

The most natural step, therefore, is to display the products through adverts and product placement and offload the purchasing experience to the smartphone. So far, this is what streaming TV services have done. Last year, Amazon Prime Video introduced a scannable smartphone QR code on spy series Citadel that directed viewers towards buying merchandise and fashion on Amazon’s online retail store. Similarly, YouTube has had its ‘send to phone’ function in the market for nearly three years. This allows a viewer to click a link displayed on a video ad and send that promotion directly to their smartphone, without interrupting the viewing experience.

The smartphone: A Swiss Army knife for engagement

As YouTube has already identified, shoppable TV will only be successful if it can minimise disruption of the viewing experience. For Amazon, this means finding a way to bring its one-click purchasing function into Prime Video viewing. The smartphone would then be on hand to sign off the process. This should be a priority as Prime Video with adverts  builds momentum this year.

Ultimately, shoppable TV should be seen as the foundation for building a deeper relationship between the smart TV and smartphone. Eunice Kim, the chief product officer at Netflix, has described the smartphone as being a Swiss Army knife that can be used to grab users’ attention in order to watch more. This will vary from sending users alerts after watching a show to encourage them to watch the series finale, to putting adverts on the smartphone screen so they do not have to watch them on the TV.

From shopping to social interactive engagement

MIDiA has argued that embracing social interactive features by making the smartphone part of the streaming TV viewing experience is necessary to sustain engagement in the future. It will help cater to Gen Z’s appetite for lean-in behaviours and combat attention inflation where the smartphone is keeping viewers from concentrating on streaming TV content. MIDiA has described how smartphones need to become ‘the support act’ if watch parties are to go from niche to mainstream. They should be the engagement amplifier for commenting, sharing, and playing mini games with the watch party host and the device for buying digital and physical merchandise. They should also operate as the anchor point for organising watch parties by managing contacts and receiving prompts that encourage viewers to host more watch parties.

Shoppable TV can help turn the smartphone from a threat to an ally. It can achieve this by becoming an important tool for monetising content outside of subscriptions and advertising. Ultimately, the smartphone represents a crucial step towards maximising the shoppable TV engagement opportunity.

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