‘Retail Reality’ Pays Off

Unscripted TV Shows Prove Their Value as Sales Partners
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In their quest to find new products, develop more engaging content and attract new viewers, home-shopping networks have turned to a now-familiar programming genre: reality competition.

QVC, HSN and Evine Live have forged alliances with three of the stars of ABC’s primetime hit Shark Tank in order to create their own on-air competition “programs” or segments, as well as to source merchandise.

Last month, HSN unveiled its “American Dreams” initiative, which will feature Shark Tank’s Daymond John as part of a team searching for entrepreneurs with good ideas and products for the network.

Lori Greiner, a Shark Tank “shark” and veteran QVC vendor, became a financial backer for Scrub Daddy, a smiley-faced sponge that gained sales traction on the home-shopping channel. Last year, it was named Shark Tank’s most successful product.

And earlier this year, billionaire Shark Tank shark Mark Cuban hosted a series, Mark Cuban’s American Dream, on Evine Live where he showcased inventors whose companies he had invested in. The home-shopping network calls it “retail reality.”

Jewelry Television has gone all in on the trend, claiming to be the first shopping network to broadcast a full-fledged reality show, JTV Rock Star Designer. That half-hour program, chronicling the network’s national talent search for jewelry designers, airs on Fridays at 7:30 p.m. JTV is considering shopping around a second season of the show to a traditional cable network.

Home-shopping networks have good reason to piggyback on the popularity of reality-competition shows. As both the retail and television environments have grown increasingly competitive, home-shopping networks have been upgrading their programming — to make it about storytelling and entertainment — and reality competitions can add those elements.

BREAKING THROUGH

“What has appealed to us about this whole genre of reality competitions is that it’s in line with our overall brand marketing strategy, which is to look for disruptive, high-engagement opportunities to break through clutter,” Doug Rose, QVC’s senior vice president of brand and communications, said.

Home-shopping networks also want to broaden their audience, to reach those who may watch Shark Tank but never tune into “The Q.” And the home-shopping outlets are always looking for the next big product, and Shark Tank can scout for such wares.

HSN president Bill Brand emphasized the importance of expanding his network’s viewership through its “American Dreams” undertaking.

“Wherever those eyes and ears are, I want to build awareness, and ultimately it’s about acquisition,” he said. “I want to acquire new customers who never considered HSN, but now that we’re doing something like ‘American Dreams’ … maybe they’ll shop here.”

Seeing a QVC vendor such as Greiner on Shark Tank lets new audiences view the network as a TV venue with “really appealing personalities and great stories” behind its products rather than “just a parade of items,” Rose said.

HSN is in the midst of its “American Dreams” initiative, where it has enlisted five entrepreneurs, including John, the founder, president and CEO of apparel label FUBU, through Shark Tank, to search the nation using TV, radio, conferences and trade shows to discover new product ideas.

The others participating in the search are: Marc Portney, through investing in entrepreneurs on Science Channel’s series All-American Makers; Bob Circosta, through HSN’s revamped “American Dreams Ideas Portal,” convention searches and seminars; Akos Jankura, through the “My Cool Inventions” radio talent search; and Gregg Smith through Edison Nation, which operates a marketplace for independent inventors.

Once a month, HSN’s The Monday Night Show With Adam Freeman will dedicate its first hour to showcasing three or more entrepreneurs with their new products along with the entrepreneur who found them — be it John or one of the other four.

Brand maintained that reality-competition shows have actually taken a page from HSN’s playbook in terms of hunting for blockbuster products, citing inventor Joy Mangano and her Huggable Hanger line.

“It’s the idea of Joy Mangano on Long Island creating a hanger and now almost 700 million being sold: That’s competition,” Brand said. “And if you think about the number of entrepreneurs, the number of new ideas, the number of product ideas that come through the HSN pipeline at any given time, it’s competitive … Who’s going to get their shot at going into 96 million homes?”

HSN already had a relationship with John, who reached out to Brand about two years ago.

BULDING ON RELATIONSHIPS

“He was talking about being on Shark Tank and having these product ideas and he said, ‘Bill, do I have permission to talk about HSN on Shark Tank? And I said, ‘Do you have to ask me?’ ” Brand said.

John has been selling items from his own mobile-phone accessory line, Moguls Mobile, on HSN, and enjoys appearing om the home-shopping network, Brand said. In advance of “American Dreams,” John introduced three entrepreneurs and products from Shark Tank on HSN in July.

Products that John brings from Shark Tank will have added credibility because HSN viewers are engaged in pop culture and familiar with the ABC show, according to Brand.

Dominant home-shopping network QVC, owned by Liberty Interactive, has been particularly aggressive in the reality-competition space, capitalizing on the relationships some of its major vendors have had with such programming. Greiner had been inventing and selling products on QVC for years before she was chosen as part of the Shark Tank panel.

“Lori has been a breakout star for them and clearly has helped elevate awareness of QVC among that audience,” Rose said. “So we’re really grateful to be sort of riding on her coattails on that one.”

Inventor Aaron Krause had appeared on QVC early in the development of Scrub Daddy, Rose said. Greiner became an investor when Krause made his pitch on Shark Tank, and Scrub Daddy roared back to QVC with great success, jump-starting its sales push.

For two seasons, QVC collaborated with Lifetime’s Project Runway All Stars, partnering with the show where designer Isaac Mizrahi — who does collections for the home-shopping network — was a judge.

“We approached it with the expectation that there were a lot of people that watched that show and had come to really like Isaac and appreciate him and understand his esthetic, and had no idea that he had this huge business at QVC,” Rose said. “So why don’t we just remind folks engaged in that show that you can find Isaac’s complete line at QVC?”

Project Runway: All Stars incorporated fashion accessories from QVC on the show and used one of the shopping network’s then-hosts, Lisa Robertson, as a guest judge. Winners from two seasons created capsule fashion lines for QVC, with Seth Aaron Henderson’s “SA by Seth” still sold on the home-shopping network.

And once again, through an association with one of its vendors, QVC currently is participating in an initiative with Today. Jill Martin, a contributor on the NBC morning show, is also the creative director for QVC’s G.I.L.I. fashion line. The Peacock Network is staging a “Today’s Next Big Thing” competition, and recently finished accepting product submissions.

The finalists will make their pitches on Today this month, and the winner will appear with Martin on QVC.

TOO BIG FOR YOUTUBE

JTV, which sells jewelry and gemstones 24/7, turned to reality competition with its Rock Star Designer show to create more brand awareness, drive viewers to the channel and ultimately, increase sales, vice president of marketing Jill Johnson said. The program features five finalists from a competition that JTV held earlier this year, and one of the judges is Michael O’Connor, a celebrity stylist who was a fixture on QVC for many years. The program is a full-scale TV production with original sets, wardrobe and crew.

Rock Star Designer was initially planned as an offering for YouTube, where JTV is trying to beef up its presence, Tim Engle, the network’s chief strategy officer, said.

“But when we started to see the postproduction output, I felt like it was just way too good to relegate it to YouTube alone,” Engle said. “I felt our viewers would appreciate it as well.”

JTV president and CEO Tim Matthews agreed, and wanted the show to air in primetime on Friday nights, as a lead-in to one of the network’s most popular segments, “Girlfriend Friday,” Engle said. The show’s episodes are also available on YouTube and on JTV’s website.

Since the debut of Rock Star Designer, JTV’s YouTube viewership has doubled “every single week,” Engle said. And viewership on the TV show, as tracked by Rentrak, has been increasing, he said.

On a recent Friday night in August, sales on “Girlfriend Friday” appeared to get a big boost from its Rock Star Designer lead-in, Engle said.

“I would have to say was probably our largest sales for that slot in recent memory,” Engle said. “Even during the holidays I don’t remember it being that successful … We must have had really good viewership coming into that hour.”

JTV is running seven episodes of Rock Star Designer, ending Sept. 18. The winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize and get to design and sell a jewelry line on the network.

JTV has several options going forward, Engle said. It could do a second season of Rock Star Designer and only put it on YouTube. It could renew it to run on the home-shopping channel. Or it could try to take the show to a traditional cable network, perhaps a Lifetime or DIY, Engle said.

“The pitch we could make is that we would basically be co-branding or co-producing with a production company, except what we bring to the table — unlike any other reality program — is another network that’s in 85 million households,” Engle said. “So it’ll help bring viewers to a cable network and the quid pro quo obviously is there would be talk about Jewelry Television (on the show).”

JTV could possibly air a companion show, the way AMC does with Talking Dead after The Walking Dead, offering additional cross-promotion, Engle said.

Evine Live, the rebranded former ShopHQ, found success when it collaborated with Shark Tank’s Cuban. In August of last year the network premiered Mark Cuban’s American Dream, which featured nine entrepreneurs with new products that the Dallas Mavericks owner had invested in. The segment’s debut racked up the home-shopping network’s highest TV and online viewership in its history.

Last October, Evine Live brought Mark Cuban’s American Dream back for an encore, with five entrepreneurs returning with their best-selling products. One of the big hits was the Monkey Mat, a portable clean surface for babies and children that Cuban and Greiner invested in via Shark Tank.

“We’re strong believers in creating exciting and entertaining shopping experiences, and working with Mark Cuban is certainly all about that: Great ‘retail reality,’ as we would like to say,” Dawn Zaremba, Evine Live’s director of marketing, said.

It’s unclear if Cuban will be coming back to the home-shopping channel. “We are always in discussions with him and others to bring similar entertainment and exclusive products to Evine Live,” Zaremba said.

Linda Moss is a business journalist who writes frequently about home shopping television.

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