QR codes became mainstream during the pandemic when restaurants began using the bar codes to allow diners touchless to menus. Now TV stations are finding that QR codes can be used to drive website traffic and app downloads. Their functionality “crosses sales and news,” says Mitchell West, regional director at Nexstar.
It took a pandemic to make QR codes mainstream for millions of Americans who dine out at restaurants. QR codes are the funny looking bar codes that half of the full-service restaurants in the country are using to allow transactions to be touchless. You scan the bar code with your phone to go to a link to see the menu.
And now TV stations are finding that QR codes can be used “as a way to engage with our audience in a more direct way,” says Michael Fabac, news and marketing director at News-Press & Gazette Co.
Their “functionality crosses sales and news,” says Mitchell West, regional director at Nexstar.
He adds that QR codes “have become an integral part of the way we are conducting business in television.”
“This is television generation next,” says Nik Thompson, owner of Local News Solutions.
“QRs remove walls between you and the customer or the viewer,” says Thomas Wegmann, creative services director at WDJT, Weigel Broadcasting’s CBS affiliate in Milwaukee.
“It is such a new technology,” says Kristy Santiago, general manager of KION, News-Press & Gazette’s CBS-CW+-Telemundo affiliate in Monterey, Calif.
Why are these TV executives singing the praises of QR codes?
The codes work the same way on television as they do in a restaurant. The bar code is displayed on the TV screen during a news story, a promo or a local commercial and viewers use their phones to scan it.
“The biggest benefit is the user convenience,” West says.
Wegmann says there was skepticism at his station whether viewers would have their phones ready to scan the codes.
“But it is so easy to do on your phone,” Wegmann says.
“It really is fascinating how people are sitting on their couch with their cell phone and are able to download information immediately and go to your website and access your stories and your content immediately,” Santiago says.
This 60-second promo aired on KION in April, and “we had 2,319 downloads of our app with this spot,” Santiago says.
Stations are using QR codes in a variety of ways.
In news, stations can use the QR code as a direct link to their websites, “to point a viewer specifically to a place that gives them more information,” West says.
“Every news department [that] says there’s more on our website should be having a QR code up that takes you to the exact direct page,” Thompson says, eliminating the bad customer experience of having to search the site for the right information.
In Milwaukee, Wegmann says the station was testing the waters by using the QR code for stories about getting the coronavirus vaccine. The station used the code during news stories and in promos for a coronavirus resource page on their website. More than 20,000 viewers scanned the code.
In Monterey, Santiago says 20% of Latino adults use their phones to access the internet. So recent news reports about the coronavirus generated almost 2,000 clicks of the QR code.
Another way that stations are having success using QR codes is promoting downloads of their news and weather apps.
“You could run a million spots that say download our app today,” Santiago says.
“With the code they just sit there with their phone and they don’t really have to do anything.”
West says Nexstar has seen success when meteorologists put up the QR code for the weather app during the forecast.
“As a test in El Paso, we had upwards of 500 scans within the first week,” West says.
As beneficial as QR codes have been for stations to drive web traffic and news apps, perhaps the most important use will be to local businesses who advertise on television.
“Creating online engagement from a television spot is really a game changer for local businesses,” West says.
He says WGN Chicago saw “tremendous success having the QR code in the bottom lower third of a television ad.”
“That will be the future for the QR codes,” Santiago says.
Thompson says one of the stations that he works with started “putting together a sales package and are pitching it to clients.”
Another important function of using QR codes for TV stations is the ability to track who uses it and where, if users allow it.
“We know what area of town that is tracking better than other parts.” Santiago says. “We can really see what types of stories make traction. It really helps us to find what stories do well with our viewers.”
For marketing, to be able to see where you have a hot ZIP code with pockets of viewers, can help in terms of shooting promo footage, town mentions in weather forecasts and viewer interviews, Wegmann says.
Down the line, stations will be able to ask people to enter more information like email addresses, phone numbers and other pertinent information.
Although the use of QR codes in television is still in its infancy, “this is the ‘money where the mouth is’ moment in television,” Thompson says. “We say we are here for bettering the viewers’ lives, now the onus is on us to do it. ”
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