HSN Punches Up Shopping by Remote

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The long-held vision of TV shopping via remote control, rather than telephone, is closer to fruition, as HSN and GoldPocket Interactive have inked a deal that will allow consumers to click for purchases later this year.

“This new application will create a completely interactive shopping experience surpassing the limitations of traditional television retail,” GoldPocket CEO Scott Newnam said last week. His company will supply the underlying interactive technology to make ITV work on set-tops already in the field.

EASY APPLICATION

The on-screen application will use a series of menus to allow viewers to buy what they see on TV. Customization capabilities will be the same as with phone ordering, allowing viewers to select size, color, quantity or other features.

Order confirmations will appear on the TV following each purchase.

“We’ve looked at ITV for more than five years,” said HSN vice president of finance John McDevitt, who noted that the company has explored several vendors and platforms to get the right user experience.

“We are now at the tipping point for ITV,” he added. “We have the technology. We have the MSOs with an interest and desire and the digital subscriber base. Everyone is technologically ready for it.”

Any HSN viewer who is registered in the company’s system — with a name, address and credit-card information on file — will be able to use a digital-cable or DBS remote to order products.

Once a product appears on screen, a purchase “bug” will appear. Viewers can click on the “bug” and be taken to a new full screen where four products will appear: the current product being shown, the two previous products showcased and HSN’s special of the day.

As a viewer navigates these pages, they’ll hear the linear channel’s audio feed.

Any viewer who can handle the up/down and “select” buttons on the remote can choose an item and be sent to the next screen, where size, color and other ordering information is available.

“Simple pull-down menus,” McDevitt said.

Consumers would then proceed through the checkout screen, receiving an on-air confirmation once their order has been placed.

McDevitt stressed the application is live, with real-time inventory updates. If an item is sold out, the item is removed from the interactive application.

HSN products typically get eight to 12 minutes of TV exposure — plenty of time for consumers to complete their order.

“We’re trying to keep it simple, tight and concise,” McDevitt said.

The application itself will be hosted on HSN’s servers. Once a consumer orders a product, a small amount of information passes through the cable return path from the set-top to the headend, Newnam said.

That information is then handed off to GoldPocket’s nationwide network, which transports the information to HSN servers — the same backbone that GSN and CBS use for their GoldPocket-enabled interactive applications.

Although it sounds simple, Newnam said the technology “is extremely complex.”

Unlike simple voting applications, customer satisfaction — and revenue — will ride on each HSN transaction.

“[HSN’s] IVR and back-end systems are so well-developed,” Newnam said.

THREE KEYS TO ITV

There are three factors that make such interactive applications a reality on extant set-top boxes, Newman noted.

First, unlike three or four years ago, every cable headend is now digital.

Second, most major pay TV providers now download firmware to set-top boxes — EchoStar Communications Corp. works with OpenTV Corp., DirecTV Inc. with NDS Systems plc and cable operators are close to deploying middleware.

The third issue is scalability, which GoldPocket has addressed. “We’ve learned how to scale it and make real-time issues work correctly,” Newnam said.

HSN plans to showcase the application at the National Show, and launch it nationally in the second half of 2005.

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