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HSN’s 'T-Commerce' App Gains Traction

With viewers warming to the idea of buying items advertised on TV with a few clicks of their remote controls, HSN is beginning to generate traction among carriers for its "Shop By Remote" product.

HSN executives say the vast majority of their viewers still rely on calling its 800 number to buy products advertised on the home-shopping network, ranging from clothes and jewelry to computers. But some viewers with access to Shop By Remote, an interactive TV application available in a growing number of Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH), Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) FiOS TV homes, are using their remote controls to quickly buy products they see hyped on the shopping net. (See Comcast Pulling Remote Shopping Trigger? and Comcast Rolls Remote Shopping.)

“Once people try it, it’s generally their preferred method of transacting with us,” HSN vice president of advanced services John McDevitt tells Cable Digital News.

McDevitt says Shop By Remote, which is available in about 25 million homes, is gaining wider distribution both directly and via partnerships HSN is beginning to strike with consumer electronics manufacturers. Earlier this month, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) agreed to offer the Shop By Remote app in some models of HDTVs and Blu-ray players that it will ship this year.

Shop By Remote runs on multiple platforms, including Verizon’s FiOS TV widget platform, and the Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) platform being deployed by Comcast and other major MSOs that are part of the Canoe Ventures LLC advanced ad joint venture. Among those partners, Comcast has already enabled EBIF in 13 million boxes. (See Cable's Canoe Heads for Scalable Waters .)

Clicking With Verizon

HSN built Shop By Remote with technology developed by GoldPocket Interactive, which was acquired by Tandberg Television in 2006 and is now owned by Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC). (See Tandberg Television Signing Off .)

Operator agnostic
McDevitt says the rollout of EBIF bodes well for Shop By Remote, but that HSN would also tailor Shop By Remote to work on other platforms. “We’re always more than willing to work with every operator."

The Shop By Remote application offered by each operator is unique. On Comcast, the EBIF application runs a “press select to shop” overlay on the top right corner the screen. Viewers that press the "select" button will view an application that partly covers the screen.

Verizon’s FiOS subscribers are also prompted to press “select to shop” for products advertised on HSN. But its widget platform takes viewers to a full-screen Shop By Remote page.

Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) has also deployed HSN Shop By Remote on its Oceanic system in Hawaii, using an application built by interactive TV firm ActiveVideo

Dish Network subscribers that use Shop By Remote must have a receiver connected to a telephone line in order to use the application. And viewers that buy a Samsung HDTV or Blu-ray player with the app must have a broadband connection on the devices in order to shop with their remotes.

McDevitt said Shop By Remote was previously available to Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC)’s iO: Interactive Optimum subscribers. But he said the application was pulled by Cablevision last year after the operator “changed their entire platform.” When asked about Shop By Remote and the platform change, a Cablevision spokeswoman said the company wouldn’t comment. Cablevision, however, has indicated it will offer a t-commerce application sometime this year. (See Cablevision Eyes T-Commerce Launch in 2010.)

Many Shop By Remote users appear to be drawn to the novelty of being able to buy a product with a few clicks of their remote controls. Viewers that don’t have an HSN account can still use the application, but are prompted to call the network’s 800 number if they want to complete the purchase in order to set up an account. A surprising number of callers tell HSN that they would prefer to complete the transaction through the Shop By Remote app rather than on the phone, according to McDevitt.

“We have a group of specially trained customer service reps, and we record the calls. What has come up over and over is, the rep always asks, ‘Would you like to complete that purchase?' ” McDevitt says the response usually is, “No thanks, I’d like to complete it using my remote control. I want to try it.”

Once viewers have linked their HSN accounts to the t-commerce app, it takes less than a minute to complete each transaction, McDevitt claims.

T-commerce is a concept that began to gain popularity in the cable TV and Internet sectors in the late 1990s, and some observers expected TV networks and advertisers to develop a business whereby viewers could buy products that they saw in entertainment programming with their remote controls. The example some industry executives used at the time was, what if viewers could buy Friends star Jennifer Aniston’s sweater with a click of a remote control?

While the industry is still in the early days of deploying t-commerce applications like HSN Shop By Remote, the disruption in the advertising sector sparked by DVRs and Internet video could cause a greater number of networks to attempt to make the ability to buy Aniston’s sweater directly from the TV a reality.

If the ability to buy products advertised in entertainment programming happens, look for HSN to position itself as an enabler of the transaction. “We’re open to all sorts of possibilities. ‘Powered by HSN,’ where HSN supports this functionality, is something we’re always open to,” McDevitt said.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Cable Digital News

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