HSN’s Remote-Control Shopping, Telco-Style

Buying stuff through your the TV -- yeah, the idea’s been around for a long, long time. It was one of the earliest notions for interactive television, predating even the rise of the Internet. HSN, the Home Shopping Network, has been working with some cable systems to implement shop-by-remote capabilities, letting viewers instantly purchase an item for sale rather than calling up an 800-number to order it. Now Peter Ruben, HSN’s executive vice president of affiliate relations, sees a new opportunity to work with telephone companies to make interactive shopping on the TV more widely available.

“The nice thing about telco [TV] is, it’s new,” Ruben said. “They’re operating out of a couple of headends. The potential is, you can reach a large number of subscribers without having to deal with legacy issues, like supporting multiple set-top boxes.” Note, though, that this is a double-edged sword, with AT&T’s consolidated headend architecture potentially at the root of the channel outages suffered by U-verse TV earlier this week.

Ruben said HSN is “working with everyone” in the telco industry: “The question is, What’s the opportunity? What’s the right time to launch this?” The shopping network is currently part of the lineups on Verizon Communications’ FiOS TV and AT&T’s U-verse TV.

To date, the HSN Shop by Remote service has already launched in trials with a few cable companies, including Time Warner Cable’s Oceanic division in Hawaii and Cablevision Systems, as well as EchoStar’s Dish Network. HSN is distributed to a total of 90 million homes, and 15 million of those have access to the interactive-shopping application. Most HSN customers prefer ordering through the TV, if they have the option, according to John McDevitt, HSN vice president of advanced services. “It’s about 30 seconds to order on the TV versus 2 minutes to do a phone call,” he said.

Telcos, however, must walk before they run, Ruben said. “The first thing is, you want to be sure you do the basics right,” he said. “With both telcos and cable, the technology needs to be in place to develop good interactive applications.”