Paid placement of brand-name items in TV shows and movies is nothing new, but NBC Universal is taking the practice to a new level by selling clothes, furniture and other goods appearing in its shows over the Web.
The company has launched a new Web store featuring products that have appeared in episodes of "Will & Grace," "Las Vegas" and daytime soap "Passions." Another Web store sells merchandise from the show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," aired by the NBC-owned Bravo cable channel.
NBC hired a San Francisco start-up called Delivery Agent to create and manage the Web sites, a relationship the companies announced Tuesday.
Shoppers can browse for items by episode, character, set, product type or brand. Merchandise for sale on the sites include a $2,900 steel and fiberglass DJ table ("Queer Eye"), a $9,750 crocodile skin handbag ("Will & Grace") and a $7.99 bottle of Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc ("Queer Eye").
Many of the items are available for purchase directly from the NBC sites. But to purchase some items, shoppers are rerouted to other retailers' Web stores. Shoppers also can phone in orders through a toll-free number.
The concept is taking off with big media companies, said Delivery Agent CEO Michael Fitzsimmons. The 2-year-old company, which has patents pending on its Web shopping system, has agreements with ABC.com, Showtime and several major movie studios including Lions Gate Entertainment and Miramax Film.
The contract with NBC, however, is the company's biggest TV deal to date, Fitzsimmons said. He sees the growing popularity of TiVo, a digital video recording technology that lets viewers skip TV commercials, as a major selling point for Delivery Agent's services.
"People not watching commercials is creating momentum for entertainment companies to seek additional revenue streams," Fitzsimmons said.
The additional revenue comes in several forms, he said. Media companies get a slice of the profits from sales on their Delivery Agent sites. Media partners, including NBC, can also purchase reports from the company about which shows sell which types of products best. Armed with this data, they can negotiate more lucrative product placement deals with advertisers, Fitzsimmons said.
Neither NBC nor Delivery Agent is emphasizing the paid-placement aspect of the arrangement, however, because critics of such practices view them as an unsavory blurring of entertainment and advertising. NBC said it launched the Web stores because viewers often request information about products they've seen in shows.
"If there is a hallmark for NBC and Bravo's interactive efforts, it is innovation that enriches the viewer experience for our programming," Stephen Andrade, NBC vice president of Interactive Development, said in a statement.