No Anchovies, Please


Last week, as
the markets plunged and investors cringed, TiVo and Domino's Pizza announced with great fanfare that they had created a system to order a pizza through interactive TV.

“This is the first time in history that the 'on-demand' generation will be able to fully experience couch commerce by ordering pizza directly through their television set,” gushed Domino's marketing maven Rob Weisberg. “You'll see a television ad for Domino's and you'll click 'I want it' through your remote. In about 30 minutes, your pizza will show up at your door.”

TV's great quest to order a pizza goes back nearly 20 years — and still I ask, “Why?”

Interactive-TV pizza ordering got a big boost in 1994, when then-Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin flipped the switch on Time Warner's Full Service Network in Orlando, Fla., a futuristic experiment of “interactive” services that would allow customers to access full video-on-demand, home-shopping and, of course, to order pizza — all from the comfort of the couch. Levin said FSN was “an irreversible step across the threshold of change,” according to published reports.

Two years and millions of dollars later, the system was buried.

Domino's has tried this before, and so have other pizza chains. Over the years, the marketing mentality never seemed to fade: Hungry couch potatoes too lazy to move! Pictures of pizza in front of a perfect sitting target! We can sell millions!

Just one flaw in the logic of this two-decade drive: Fast-food ordering and delivery is already pretty convenient. Like many people, I do press a few buttons, but not on my remote. I have a cordless phone within reach of my couch. If I forget the pizza number, it's on a magnet on the fridge. Why fix something that ain't broke?

But even the pizza guys know one thing: Forget the iPhone, the iPod, satellite radio, computers or even cellphones, no other single electronic device in America reaches American homes. More than 112.8 million homes in the U.S. have a television set and 87% subscribe to cable or satellite television.

And TiVo gets credit for delivering a tool that is largely missing in homes now: a credible navigator for the increasingly cluttered box of content in our living rooms. TiVo's (overly) active suggestion function for viewers prompted a story six years ago in the Wall Street Journal that read, “If TiVo Thinks You Are Gay, Here's How to Set It Straight.”

Cable operators can laugh, but even today, they still lack an essential tool for content discovery. Interactive TV does exist today, but on a scale far less grand than the visions of a decade ago. Three areas hold the most promise: 1) a better navigation system; 2) on–demand viewing, such as digital video recorders and video on demand; and 3) advanced, addressable advertising platforms.

The key is focusing on what enhances the way people watch TV.

None of these involve pizza.