Firm Plans to Launch Interactive Shopping Network in 1Q

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Start-up interactive television firm Jim Walter Technologies plans to launch an interactive shopping network in the first quarter next year that will allow consumers to perform transactions through their televisions using a specially designed remote control.

Digital cable company partners will provide the system, labeled Vistela, for free. Initially the company will roll out the service to the 4 million owners of Scientific Atlanta's Explorer 2000 set-top box, with plans to partner eventually with additional digital cable providers and set-top box manufacturers.

The 24-hour, seven-days-a-week channel will feature products from other catalogs, with the goal of offering 150 catalogs by launch. Consumers will be able to select items by clicking through a short query form. The company said it already has tentative agreements with several undisclosed catalogers.

"We are looking to partner with mainstream catalogers with a relatively strong e-commerce presence," said David Thompson, chief technology officer at Jim Walter Technologies, Tampa Bay, FL.

The company will serve specific sales or discount information to users through consumer profiling. Consumers will be asked to complete a multiple-choice questionnaire on the channel or over the phone regarding their interests. While consumers will not be required to fill out questionnaires, they will be rewarded for doing so through various discounts. The company also will collect information on past purchasing behavior to further profile Vistela users, Thompson said.

Consumers will be able to request specific sales pitches through proactive alerts on the Vistela channel.

"For example, a consumer might request that Vistela let him know when any PlayStation 2 systems are in stock," Thompson said.

Vistela users will receive an account number upon initial setup and will be able to charge all purchases to their credit cards.

Consumers can click an icon on the Vistela channel for customer service, which will lead to a phone call from the participating vendor's customer service center. The company eventually plans to offer customer service via video on the channel, Thompson said.

The company will generate revenue by receiving commissions from participating retailers on all merchandise sold through the program. Jim Walter Technologies also plans to place sponsorship advertisements at the top of the screen that consumers can click to receive information about the sponsor. The company is working on potential ad arrangements but would not disclose specifics.

The Vistela channel also will provide users with e-mail services, updates on sports statistics, and local and national news updates through pending partnerships with news services.

Users also will be alerted of special offers on other participating digital cable television channels through a Vistela logo at the top of the screen, which they can either click on, click off or ignore. "If a consumer is watching 'The Crocodile Hunter' and is possibly interested in purchasing boots worn by the host, he may be able to click on the Vistela icon and inquire about a purchase," Thompson said.

Vistela also will offer a chat feature, which will enable viewers to talk about other programs they are watching if the Vistela logo appears on the program. "People watching a football game may click on the icon to enact a chat feature, which will allow viewers to chat at the bottom of the page about the game," Thompson said. Scientific Atlanta offers a keyboard that allows individuals to use the chat feature, he added.

Jim Walter Technologies will market the system through outdoor and television ad campaigns, Thompson said, adding that specific ad plans have not been formulated yet.

Jim Walter Technologies was launched in March by Thompson, former manager at GTE Data Services; Gary Simon, former principal consultant for his own financial management and corporate retirement consulting firm; and Jason Fraley, former supervisor at GTE Data Services. The company was funded internally.

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