By Joe Lanane • LMA Contributor
Back in December, Altice USA’s News 12 Networks, a hyperlocal news service covering New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, decided on a whim to insert a QR code into its live weather broadcast. The experiment immediately attracted thousands of additional users to its website.
Once left for dead, QR codes recently made a comeback after COVID-19 health safety measures necessitated contactless ordering. Now, Tri-State area broadcast television consumers are embracing QR codes to access breaking news and local resources.
“We decided to use it randomly at first to see if anyone actually scans it out,” said Chris Vaccaro, vice president of digital news, News 12 Networks. “It was an unknown. We were just trying to be innovative.”
The test code, appearing on the lower right corner near a scrolling news ticker, aired during a severe snowstorm. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, attracting 19,000 scans during the live broadcast — an extra 15% in online traffic to the News 12 weather page that day.
Since that successful trial run, QR code shortcuts — generated using Tagboard — have run during News 12’s live coverage, including the U.S. Capitol insurrection and the presidential inauguration. When the codes are used, newscast anchors explain how to scan them using a smartphone camera to see more information online. Each time, the QR code is scanned thousands of times.
“Without that [call to action], I don’t know that the normal viewer would act,” Vaccaro said.
Vaccaro tracks real-time impact using a bit.ly shortlink. The current record is 40,000 scans, which occurred during a second blizzard event this winner, beating the record set during the previous blizzard. That number represented 20% of all views to the weather page that day.
“It’s very competitive to see if we can beat the previous high,” Vaccaro said. “It shows what you can do when you utilize the tools at your disposal and think a little outside of the box instead of using every third-party app that comes in your LinkedIn inbox.”
Now the strategy is expanding, Vaccaro said, into pre-planned specials and investigative segments as well as News 12’s show “The Next Normal,” about life during COVID-19. In that case, the code directs viewers to a vaccine resource page.
“QR codes have been there all along, but have we really used them? I couldn’t even tell you the last time I used a QR code for any purpose before COVID-19,” he said. “We really are just scratching the surface.”
Vaccaro is working with the News 12 sales team on monetization strategies. He sees potential branded content and sponsorship opportunities as well as links to various deals, coupons and even the News 12 commerce shop. The project has also helped unite the News 12 digital team with the TV crew and graphic designers in a positive, team-building manner.
“It’s one of the many projects to break the silos and bust the legacy mindsets,” Vaccaro said. “Every time we do it, we’re seeing what’s working really well and how we can challenge ourselves more.”