Comcast: T-Commerce Four Times More Effective Than Online Shopping

Shoppers are four times more likely to complete a purchase with interactive TV than they are via e-commerce sites, according to Mark Hess, Comcast senior vice president of video business and product development.

Hess, speaking at the TV of Tomorrow conference here Thursday, said 3% of people who initiate a transaction on an Internet shopping site ultimately abandon their purchase before completion.

"We are four times that on home shopping at the moment of truth. Video sells -- duh!" Hess said. "That's huge. That stat alone is all you need to know."

Comcast offers HSN's Shop by Remote app, based on CableLabs' Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format, or EBIF, specification to more than half its subscribers.

Currently, the MSO has 14.5 million EBIF-enabled homes, which essentially represents Comcast's Motorola footprint. Hess said the operator is in the process of testing EBIF on Cisco System set-tops, with an expected rollout in the middle of next year.

Canoe Ventures, owned by Comcast and the five other largest U.S. MSOs, expects to launch T-commerce capabilities in 2011, said chief technology officer Arthur Orduña.

"It is an absolute imperative for us to figure out electronic fulfillment, and get that going in 2011," he said. "We want to provide that bridge for national programmers who want to provide a ‘buy' button."

Canoe has established a partnership program to explore, among other things, new T-commerce and RFI business opportunities. Its initial partners include PayPal, FourthWall Media and icueTV.

Time Warner Cable, meanwhile, will have about 4.5 million EBIF-enabled households by the end of 2010 in about a dozen markets, running on the Cisco platform, said Chris Faw, senior vice president of operations for media sales.

TWC expects to double its EBIF footprint to 9 million by middle of 2011, widening out to Motorola systems including Dallas and Los Angeles. "I was in a meeting yesterday and the number went up 100,000 while we were in the meeting," Faw said.

That would yield about 19 million EBIF households between Comcast and TWC, whereas the industry has been projecting upward of 25 million by the end of 2010.

Still, Orduña said, EBIF is now hitting an inflection point where, after more than 20 years of work on interactive TV, the infrastructure is finally becoming widely operational.

"Programmers wonder, ‘What's the shelf life if I make this investment in EBIF?'" he said. "What I can tell you is an investment in EBIF at a network level will get you ROI. The platform is not going away... The footprint is there."

Comcast Spotlight, for its part, has executed 340 request for information campaigns on EBIF, Hess said, serving 280 million impressions to date. Hess also noted that Comcast's Xfinity TV iPad app, released earlier this week, uses EBIF to communicate back to subscribers' set-tops to change channels and set DVR recordings.

"What has looked hard is now looking easy," Hess said.

Faw characterized TWC's commitment to EBIF this way: "The chicken is involved in breakfast, but the pig is fully committed. We are fully committed."

On the topic of T-commerce, the panelists brought up the hackneyed example of letting viewers watching Friends clicking to purchase Jennifer Aniston's sweater. Panel moderator itvt editor-in-chief Tracy Swedlow said she tried to get Aniston but that her agent "didn't get it."

Quipped Hess, "Let's just get the sweater."