NBC’s Today Show has long been a juggernaut in terms of influence and advertising, but even the most beloved television shows need to diversity their revenue stream. Today has been quietly doing just that for the last year-plus with its online store.
The plan seems to be working. Jill Martin, who has a lifestyle brand on QVC and for nearly a decade has hosted Today’s “Steals & Deals” segment, is now officially joining the show as its lifestyle contributor to help further promote this commerce pursuit. My sources indicate that this new e-commerce pursuit brought in $60 million in gross revenue in 2018–and they expect it to grow more this year.
TV shows and their personalities have long been considered the best marketing for a product. In the book world, a known way to become a bestseller was either to get featured by Oprah or snag a spot on a show like Today or Good Morning America. NBC execs see the revamped Today online store as a way to transfer that latent marketing buzz into real sales. The shift comes at a time when traditional media continue to face challenges and nearly every media company is trying to rely less on ads and more on other revenue engines. The New York Times bought the product review site the Wirecutter in 2016 for more than $30 million precisely to build a business like this. (In the Times’s Q4 earnings release, the company reported $49.4 million in “digital other revenue” for 2018, which is likely a good–albeit slightly north–ballpark for understanding how much revenue the Wirecutter brings in.) Other companies like BuzzFeed and Vox Media have made similar e-commerce pushes.
What the Today Show has that most new media companies don’t is an audience’s rapt attention. “Steals & Deals” is watched by more than 3 million viewers.
The show has featured recommended products on the air for years, but beginning in the last quarter of 2017, the program began to invest more heavily into the commerce side. Until then, Today didn’t quite have a cohesive commerce strategy and it didn’t try to monetize this content. Then the show decided to invest in expanding its online commerce presence, hiring New York Magazine alum Jen Birkhofer to lead its strategy. Over the last 12-plus months, with the help of executive producer for TODAY Digital and VP of Strategic Content for NBC News Ashley Parrish, Today’s online store has featured newsletters, gift guides, as well as exclusive product deals–most tied with “Steals & Deals.” Traffic to the site skyrocketed by more than 80% in 2018, and the show has been able to capitalize on well-known shopping frenzies. Today.com, for example, sold more than 2 million products during the holidays, the site brought in more than $12 million during Cyber Week, and a single, five-minute “Steals & Deals” segment (that featured before-bestselling items) brought in more than $5 million in revenue in 24 hours.
Martin has been doing her segment for nearly a decade, and in a recent phone call, she tells me that she believes that’s what helped propelled the show’s commerce pursuit. “People want to buy something from someone they trust,” Martin says, “I have established that trust with the viewer.” NBC Digital, in fact, found that Martin’s face was a big revenue driver; when the site used anchors or parts from broadcast as a tease image on articles, conversion and click-through supposedly increased dramatically.
Martin tells me this is a dream come true. She created “Steals & Deals” in her Manhattan apartment by cold-calling brands to see if they would give discounts to the TV show’s viewers. The segment has since morphed into a recurring five-minute segment that people depend on. “It really is appointment television now,” Martin says.
While Martin is making her partnership with the show more concrete with this announcement, her role isn’t changing much. She will continue to air the “Steals & Deals” segment, as well as seek out products that could be featured on the show. (Martin tells me she has a very serious and codified rubric she follows to approve an item for the segment.)
It should be said that while $60 million is certainly a lot of money, it’s still a small percentage of revenue for the morning show. In 2016, Today reportedly brought in $509 million in ad revenue. When Megyn Kelly was removed from hosting the fourth hour of Today, it was reported that her show had taken in $180 million in ad sales in the previous 12 months. In that context, one year of e-commerce sales for the Today Show is only about four months of Kelly.
Throughout 2019, Today plans to add more online content to drive more revenue. Martin will help with more gift guides, newsletters, and other ways she can connect with her audience to drive sales. Meanwhile, NBC digital as a whole will look toward other verticals that could be used to push product. The e-commerce team is also keeping a watchful eye on users’ online behavior–which brands they buy, which they don’t–and using that data to inform future campaigns.
Martin is both enthusiastic and grateful that she’s able to both continue her segment and prove its worth. “This is the culmination of something I’ve worked on for a decade,” she says. “It’s hard to believe that eight years ago I was sitting in my living room begging people to do a segment like this.”