QR code
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How to make sure your QR code doesn’t become a PR nightmare

Protocol Entertainment

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Thursday, we’re looking at the challenges of making QR codes work on TV. Also: The World Cup is streaming for free on Tubi, and Marques Brownlee got the scoop on the Apple Car.

The 101 of using QR codes in TV ads

Ever since Coinbase ran its QR code ad during the Super Bowl, there’s been a real excitement about using them to take TV advertising to the next level.

QR codes can bring transparency to TV ads, allowing brands to precisely track who is responding to their messages. They also offer a chance to make TV advertising more interactive, with NBCUniversal and others pitching marketers on the idea of using these codes to unlock experiences on a second screen.

However, things can also go terribly wrong if advertisers don't pay attention to the details. To learn more about possible worst-case scenarios and how to avoid them, I recently caught up with Beaconstac co-founder and CTO Ravi Pratap Maddimsetty, whose company helps brands launch and manage QR codes, NFCs and more.

Maddimsetty told me his company has seen the use of QR codes skyrocket since the beginning of the pandemic. “Most of us had really not come across QR codes before March of 2020,” he said. But now, there’s hardly a restaurant that doesn’t use them, which in turn means that many more people know how to interact with them. “Even people in their 80s know how to use QR codes,” Maddimsetty said.

The flip side: This makes QR codes that much more valuable to scammers. There’s an inherent security risk in asking people to open an unknown website on their phones, and all it takes is one bad experience to drive people away for good. That’s why it’s so important that brands follow a few key guidelines, Maddimsetty said.

  • This starts with using recognizable domains for your QR code. Free QR code generators sometimes use random-letter domains, or domain shorteners that effectively hide the final destination. Instead, a brand like Nike would want to use an easily recognizable target domain like QR.Nike.com, Maddimsetty said.
  • Just as important: Keep track of your QR code campaigns, and make sure you can securely manage them.
  • “One big problem is that companies set up QR code campaigns and then they forget about it,” Maddimsetty said. “Some employee set it up, and then left the company. Then, it becomes inaccessible.”
  • That’s especially problematic if the platform used to set up the code in the first place isn’t using proper security measures.
  • “If it's a platform which doesn't have single sign-on and two-factor authentication, I can get into your account,” he said. “I can log in and then change the destination of that QR code.”
  • That way, bad actors can hijack an existing campaign and redirect people to malware, spam or phishing sites. “Those kinds of things have happened,” cautioned Maddimsetty.

Also important: making sure that QR codes work at all. Having a QR code on a restaurant menu is one thing. Showing it on television to millions of viewers comes with its own set of challenges.

  • This includes giving people enough time to find their phone, open their camera app and actually scan the code. “Always have the QR code on screen throughout the duration of the ad,” Maddimsetty recommended.
  • Another rookie mistake is to keep the QR code small because you don’t want it to interfere with the look of your ad.
  • “If someone is sitting 12 feet away from their television screen, your QR code has to be big enough,” he said. “If it's too small, it won't get picked up by the camera.”
  • Finally, those colors and background choices matter. “If the contrast is wrong, it doesn't really end up being scannable,” Maddimsetty said. “This is one of the biggest issues we see.”

Done right, QR codes can add a whole new dimension to TV advertising. That’s especially true if you use dynamic codes that redirect to different destinations based on the time of day, or even the location of the viewer. “It can be dynamic based on whether you're in California, Washington or Pennsylvania,” he said.

In the end, QR codes can help make TV ads a bit more like the internet. “You get someone to take immediate action, which is the whole point of advertising,” Maddimsetty said.

— Janko Roettgers

Tubi’s massive World Cup get

There’s been a lot of TV and streaming news this week, so you’re forgiven if you may have missed one interesting nugget: Tubi, the Fox-owned free streaming service, is going to stream every single game of the 2022 FIFA World Cup for free, no subscription required. More precisely, Tubi will stream every game on demand “right after the final whistle,” as Tubi CEO Farhad Massoudi put it on Twitter this week.

I know what you’re thinking: Who wants to watch something like the World Cup on demand? Chances are most of us, at least for some of the games. Because of time differences, group stage games will start at 2 a.m. PT. To watch a game like Germany versus Japan, you’d have to tune in at 5 a.m. (OK, I may actually do that, but many others likely won’t). Even the quarterfinals and finals are broadcasting at 7 a.m. PT, which is not a time that works for everyone.

Fox is still showing all the games live on TV, but the company’s decision to then move those matches to Tubi is fascinating, and indicative of how Fox approaches streaming as a whole. Which is to say: very different from competitors like NBCUniversal, which used the recent Winter Olympics to push people to pay for Peacock. Instead, Fox is betting on ad-supported video to play a huge role in our streaming future.

Tubi has already been a success story for the company. The service now has 51 million monthly active users, who collectively streamed 3.6 billion hours of programming last year. By making a high-profile event like the World Cup available to cord cutters, Tubi is on a path to easily grow that number this year.

— Janko Roettgers


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In other news

Netflix lays off 150 employees. The layoffs primarily affected U.S.-based staff, and come after the company signaled it is looking to cut back on spending.

Apple Music is getting into livestreaming. The new Apple Music Live series will launch with a Harry Styles concert this Friday.

Nearly 2 million households cut the cord in Q1. The top U.S. pay TV providers lost a combined 1.95 million subscribers last quarter, according to a new estimate.

How Apple got started with its AR/VR headset. The Information has an interesting look at the early days of Apple’s immersive hardware efforts.

Sony is ready to enter the metaverse. The PlayStation maker held a corporate strategy meeting this week where it identified the metaverse as a top priority and “a social space and a live network space where games, music, movies, and anime intersect and expand.”

PUBG Mobile’s most befuddling collab to date. To Sony’s point, the mobile version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is launching a “Neon Genesis Evangelion”-themed event today featuring the mecha series’ giant robots as collectible avatars.

Mega Man creator dives into NFTs. Keiji Inafune of Mega Man and Mighty No. 9 fame has a new project: an NFT collection called Beastroids, launching on the Japanese marketplace PolkaFantasy in July.

Roblox’s growing radicalization problem. The Buffalo mass shooter said in private Discord logs he was first exposed to nationalist rhetoric and firearms by playing Roblox, part of an ongoing trend in which the platform has struggled to contain extremist content.


I’ve written in the past about the use of AI to generate synthetic media, including deepfake commercials, AI dubbing and even personalized ads. If you want to know where this journey is going, make sure to watch the latest video from YouTuber Marques Brownlee (aka MKBHD). Brownlee usually spends his time testing and reviewing the latest phones and other gadgets, but for this clip, he got to try out DALLE-2, a program developed by OpenAI that is capable of generating images from scratch based on simple text requests. The results are pretty mind-blowing. Plus, the video includes a sneak peek at the Apple Car!

— Janko Roettgers


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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to entertainment@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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