Walmart Bets Big That Streaming Viewers Will Shop While They Watch

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December 5, 2019
Walmart’s investment in an interactive video company may offer a new way to connect streaming content with direct retail opportunities, ushering in an effective way to reach viewers who no longer watch traditional cable and satellite TV.
The retail giant invested $250 million in interactive video platform Eko last year. Eko creates choose-your-own adventure shows for the modern age.
Instead of just getting to choose between two or three clickable options, like viewers had during the "Bandersnatch” episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror, Eko’s episodes give viewers a myriad of options. The story can change depending on the decisions made during the prior episode, further evolving the medium.
“Our partnership with Eko will help us accelerate efforts to deepen relationships with customers and connect with new audiences in innovative ways and is one part of an overall entertainment ecosystem we’re building,” said Scott McCall, Walmart’s senior vice president for entertainment, toys, and seasonal. “By partnering with organizations across the industry to create original, interactive content, we’re bringing the next generation of entertainment to customers and delivering memorable experiences they can only find at Walmart.”
Eko’s interactive format extends past the TV shows and straight into its ads, which could provide Walmart with new revenue opportunities. Similar to Eko episodes, companies can create branded storylines through ad units called Sparks that appear during breaks in the episode. During “The Sidequests of Gwendolyn Griffin,” which lives inside the series “Wizard School Dropout,” viewers can help the main character decorate an apartment and order food for a housewarming party. The participants are directed to Walmart.com after the experience, where they can purchase all the items that were just featured as choices.
“If you want to go into original linear content, you are going to spend dozens of millions of dollars to catch up,” said Eko CEO Yoni Bloch. “I think they are taking a bet to leapfrog that, to create something that resonates with how this generation or next generation is behaving on interactive devices.”
Interactive viewing
Eko’s latest slate of four shows, which was released in late November, had 598,617 potential narratives. Despite the myriad of choices, Bloch says each series only costs $10,000 to $100,000 to produce thanks to the way it is shot.
Because it requires people to be actively watching, the shows have high engagement levels. A source with knowledge of Eko’s stats says the average engagement with their endscreens (the last frame) is 70 percent. For comparison, the average engagement with a Facebook Video, meaning any action including likes, comments, shares or clicks, was 5.8 percent according to Locowise.
Bloch believes future generations watching TV shows and movies will demand more interaction. His 3-year-old daughter watches videos on her iPad and touches the screen when Elmo does something. Instead of Elmo reacting to her physical contact, it pauses the video and confuses her because she expects it to be more reactive.
“The original idea of storytelling is: it’s a conversation,” he explained. “If I say things to you and it doesn’t resonate, I’m going to try talking to you in a different way … What kind of medium can hear you and the message? The Internet. It’s a two-way communication platform.”
As more streaming services launch, consumers are becoming tighter with their wallets when deciding which platforms to subscribe to. A recent survey from Magid found people were willing to buy four subscriptions and pay $42 a month for their services. As a result, analysts and companies are predicting that there will be a boom in ad-supported, free-or-cheaper content — and brands want in. About 64 percent of consumers purchase an item after watching a branded social video, according to video creation service Animoto.
“Advertisers are extremely hungry for quality, longer-form, TV-like content,” said Interactive Advertising Bureau Digital Video Center of Excellence deputy director Eric John. "[Streaming content] represents an incredible opportunity, and brands are also looking for scale as well as what these streaming services offer.”
Other Eko shoppable videos include a personalized cooking series called Cook Together. People can toggle between how many people are dining, whether you have dietary restrictions like gluten-free options or pescetarian, and what kind of flavors you like in your sauce before watching the recipe. Ingredients then can then be purchased and delivered from Walmart.
Clothes Call lets you style a look from head to toe for a woman hosting Thanksgiving dinner, while keeping budget in mind. Elle editor-in-chief Nina Garcia then critiques your look. When you click on the next episode, you can play a little mini-game in between — which also allows you to buy the choices you make.
“Ad units like Sparks, that integrate opportunities that offer, for consumers, a way to choose the narrative line of a story, are interesting because its actually integrating products for a consumer to buy items, creating a shoppable ad,” John added.
The idea of shoppable video has existed ever since ad executives pitched the famous idea of being able to buy Rachel Green’s sweater while someone was watching an episode of Friends. Though many companies have promised shoppable ads, it’s never been executed smoothly enough to have mass number of consumers buy things they see online right away. Most people put things in an online cart or list, and decide whether they really want it later. However, thanks to social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, people are getting used to clicking on items they see in ads and making the purchase immediately.
Right now, real-time, click-and-buy behavior is limited to a handful of categories like apparel and cosmetics, eMarketer principal analyst Andrew Lipsman pointed out. But as the behavior becomes more common, companies are hoping people will make more immediate buys. And interactive content where people get invested in the storylines may be key.
“Walmart has to be thinking about those lines of shoppable content,” Lipsman said. “There are rumors they’re backing away from (streaming video platform) Vudu. This all plays in the general theme. They are allowing to align themselves in a bigger trend they see. Maybe they think this is a better path to that.”
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