In the end of November 2011 an E-commerce giant eBay added a new feature to its iPad app, which allows users to shop for products based on what they are watching on TV. The feature is called “Watch with eBay” and let you browse and buy items related to the TV programme you’re watching.

First you have to tell the app where you’re located and which cable provider do you have at home. Then you just have to tell eBay what you’re watching: a sporting event, movie, drama, reality show, sitcom … Watch with eBay will then show you related items for sale on eBay.

Sounds cool, ha?

Well, not so fast :)

eBay's new feature: Watch with eBay

Steve Yankovich, eBay’s VP of Platform Business Solutions & Mobile, eBay said in a recent interview with Robert Scoble that there’s a lot to be done in that field and I agree with him. Even though Watch with eBay works only in the US I managed to convince the app that I live somewhere in the state of New York and on Sunday I tested the app with two programs: NFL wild card game between Atlanta Falcons and NY Giants, and the movie Friends with Benefits, which has some very notable product placements (you can read more about that topic in a blog post Product placement in pictures: Friends with Benefits).

Let’s see how the app performed.

1. NFL game: Atlanta Falcons vs New York Giants

The app offered me an impressive number of hits: 49,764. Most of them were football related products associated with the keywords Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants and Football Wild-Card Round. I’ve also browsed through different categories and you could buy anything you want, related to those keywords. Pretty awesome, but as Mr. Yankovich said there is room for improvement.

Watch with eBay's results for NFL game between Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants

2. Friends with Benefits

The summer blockbuster involved some notable brands and products. Justin Timberlake worked for GQ Magazine, we could’ve spotted several Sony products (Playstation, Sony Experia mobile phone, TV, Sony Vaio laptop), iPad, posters for Skyy vodka and a mysterious L.T. Kali painting.

Watch with eBay offered me a bunch of DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, but that was predictable. However I then choose Magazines category and checked the results. The outcome: nothing special, just a bunch of magazines with either Justin Timberlake or Mila Kunis on cover (with a few GQs among them).

Watch with eBay's results for Friends with Benefits

When I chose Art they offered me posters of Justin or Mila, when I chose Mobile phones and PDAs I’ve only received custom designed phone cases with Justin Timberlake. Basically all results were associated with either Justin or Mila.

Watch with eBay's results for magazines & Friends with Benefits

So, can eBay’s iPad app enhance the importance of product placement? Can it help generate revenue out of product placement?

In my opinion it can. Steve Yankovich said in the aforementioned interview that our free time and television consuming habits have changed. We now come home from work and don’t use laptop or desktop computer. No, we use tablets, mostly iPads. We’re using them on the couch, sometimes while watching TV. And there is only a small step to ‘couch commerce’ or to describe it plainly: ordering goods and services while relaxing at home.

A recent study from eBay indicated that 86% of mobile users use their devices while watching TV. Also, eBay said that a quarter of these are browsing content related to what they’re watching. So, Watch with eBay is a perfect tool for buying stuff during some sports broadcasts, because you don’t have to be totally focused on the TV programme.

Steve Yankovich said a TV programme or anything you watch on TV or on different screens can be a commerce inspirational vehicle with eBay the first in line with its enormous number of products on sale. “Shoppers are in the driver’s seat, with mobile technology putting the mall right in your pocket. We’re using our mobile and tablet innovations to empower people to shop and find the best deals – anytime, anywhere, any way they want – from the comfort of their couch or on the go.”

Using eBay’s app for monetizing product placement in movies or TV shows is a bit more difficult but clearly not impossible. Yankovich believes that it will be easier, especially when there is meta data for everything that it’s in the TV show. He thinks that manual work is not sensible, because there are too many products in a movie or let’s calls them commercial opportunities (from a mug in the kitchen to a brand new car).

In my opinion that’s true, but eBay should at least try it with some blockbusters which had a lot of placements. They could choose 20 or 50 relatively new movies, check product placement from those movies (on BrandChannel or Brands&Films) and add a few keywords.

It should be simple. It might be commercially viable, too!

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  1. The ultimate goal would be to have an app where we could directly buy objects seen in any TV show or movies; not necessarily related items, but the exact same objects than can be seen on the screen.

    Let’s say I like the shirt that a character wore in a movie. The goal would be to be able to find and buy that exact same shirt in the app, without having to search manually. That’d definitely be the best, and that could also be a new incentive for brands to make product placements.

    Hopefully in the future we’ll have an app like that. Watch with Ebay definitely seems to be in the good path!

  2. Hello,

    I think the job for eBay would just have to be finding an equilibrium: what is still worth to process and offer since there is quite a lot of work to be done to include large amounts of indirectly linked or almost hidden goods.

    On one hand it is obvious: eBay includes everything that is directly related to the show and its stars. It will cover a lot, but on the other hand it is easy for a user to find that. Just browsing. For an app user that can not be much of an app can it?
    And then there is the real product placement: items that are more difficult to define by a brand. That means finding something spectators find interesting, helping them to find it and purchase it. Doing real research for potential customers instead of them means working instead of them.

    It can be done in a number of ways: from extremely restrictive selling of advertising space, to inserting endless lists of declared goods and offering millions of items. For the app user the two mentioned extremes represent the most useless examples: offering either too scarce and too obvious, or just too many barely connected options for them to handle. In either case the app is barely usful. However we are much further from the latter case. It is also notable that the latter case costs a great deal of work for the app editor. Therefore it is obvious why eBay started from the scarce end.

    The development of the app should go in the direciton of including huge amounts of goods and organizing them. Very much the story of the www. Till then however it will have to be a constant struggle supported by measurment: finding the equilibrium what scarecity still makes sense to make an app useful under the condition of viable cost.

  3. …As for the title question “can Watch with eBay improve the effectiveness of product placement?” Without a doubt. Anything pointing out a placed product helps. Then the question arrises: how much money is such a placement in the app worth?