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NBC, Scripps Using Stations For Home-Shopping Trials

Broadcasters are giving home shopping another shot. Two big trials are set for this summer including tests by E.W. Scripps, which owns a controlling stake in Shop at Home, and NBC, which has a 40% stake in Valuevision's ShopNBC.

At Scripps, several projects are under way, including one that kicks off next week: a series of standalone inserts packaged as "Shop at Home Smart Values," that will offer single products for sale in 60- or 90-second spots. The inserts will be live and customized to the 10 local Scripps TV stations.

In addition, Shop at Home will produce up to 20 half-hour and hour-long shows to air in weekend time periods on the Scripps-owned stations. Some of those shows will have holiday themes; others will be tied to products. The shows will air in slots currently occupied by syndicated shows or paid programming and will offer a variety of products. Internet tie-ins are also planned.

"We're in experimental mode," says John Lansing, senior vice president, television, Scripps Howard Broadcasting. "We're still somewhat in search of what is the best formula for retail selling on broadcast television. We're trying to take what is on the Shop at Home network, price and item selling, and turn it into more programs that make sense in a broadcast-television experience."

NBC is hoping to achieve similar results. NBC and ShopNBC are jointly testing a one-hour home shopping show called Shop & Style, which will air daily in the morning during August on four NBC-owned stations.

It's being produced by Dateline
and Today
show veteran Diane Masciale, who describes the show as "like the last hour of Today
with the added layer of selling."

But the pitches—and there may be up to 10 of them per episode—will be "very soft sell," she says, not like the constant, in-your-face hawking seen and heard on the cable home shopping channels.

If it works, it could be a new revenue stream for the network and possibly for affiliates. The project is said to have originated out of NBC's Business Development unit headed by Brandon Burgess. He is the network's liaison with the affiliates on the so-called futures committee, which has been working hard to come up with business ventures that the network and affiliates can jointly exploit.

Just as likely, the show, if successful, could go into syndication, but NBC stresses that it has no grand plan.

"If it works," notes Jay Ireland, president of the NBC owned stations division, "it will be a nice problem. We're going to give it a shot and see if it's another potential daytime show that could work."

NBC's daytime "lineup" consists of just a couple of shows.

The syndication product on the O&Os is a mixed bag, including The John Walsh Show, which is wrapping up year one with very so-so ratings.

NBC Enterprises has renewed the show, as has the station group, in hopes that Walsh
will build audience in year two. On WNBC(TV) New York, the home shopping show will occupy the regular Walsh
time period, and the talk show will shift to 10 a.m., replacing People's Court, which the station has canceled. Walsh
will return to its 11 a.m. time period on Sept. 1.

Ireland insisted last week that he remains "fully committed to John Walsh" and to the rest of the program lineup now slated for the fall 2003-04 season. "But we'll see how this goes. If things work out, that gives us options."

The affiliate futures committee, headed by Hearst-Argyle Television's Terry Mackin, has put together a list of potential projects the two sides might work together on. The Shop & Style
show isn't on it right now, but "it may go on the list after this experiment is over," says Ireland.

The show will be simulcast on home shopping network ShopNBC and on NBC-owned stations in New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco from 11 a.m. to noon and in Chicago from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. It will air live on all but KNTV(TV) San Francisco, where it will be tape delayed. Shop & Style
will replace the now canceled Other Half
in the three markets besides New York.

It isn't the first time that broadcasters have tried home shopping formats. In the mid 1980s, several syndicators tried to capitalize on the success of cable networks like HSN and QVC. Among them were Telepictures and MCA, which launched offerings that promised stations a cut of the sales. ABC tried a late-night home shopping program around the same time in an effort to develop workable post-Nightline
fare. None caught on.

Shop & Style
will have two co-hosts yet to be named who will deliver most of the sales pitches, according to Masciale. Celebrities already booked for the show include former supermodel Cheryl Tiegs, who has a line of makeup products. Miss USA Susie Castillo will also host a segment (the network aired the pageant in March).

Ireland said Shop at Home will keep most of the proceeds from sales. Shop & Style will have four daily breaks, not for commercials but for promos for NBC's upcoming fall season and other programs.

At Scripps, the stations will get 15% of product sales generated by their home shopping shows, Lansing said.