RespondTV's T-Commerce Experiment Benefits Station

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Interactive television company RespondTV is again teaming with equity investor Chris-Craft Industries Inc. on another interactive television experiment on KBHK in San Francisco, a Chris-Craft-owned, UPN affiliate.


The latest event in their nine-month association is an enhancement during the World Wrestling Federation's "SmackDown" program. The enhancement began airing on May 25 and will continue until June 22.


Like the other enhancements, this one is aimed at solidifying RespondTV's t-commerce applications and not at immediately generating a profit. But, unlike the previous events -- a Melissa Etheridge concert co-sponsored by CDNow; a Domino's Pizza commercial; and a previous WWF promotion -- this t-commerce application directly benefits the station itself and not the program's producers.


This time the product -- "No Wuss TV" T-shirts -- is being sold and shipped by KBHK itself and features the station's logo. Previously, the station only acted as it normally would with any commercial or program and simply aired the enhanced version.


"It is a unique experiment," said Dennis Marshall, senior vice president of new media at KBHK. "I'm not sure if it has been done before, where the station itself has sold something through ITV. It is just an experiment, but it shows that interactivity can benefit the station monetarily. Being involved with RespondTV is a good image for us to have among our viewers and our advertisers, too. It says that we are open to new ways of marketing and selling a product whether it's to profit us or to indirectly profit us by profiting them."


Once a week -- Thursdays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. -- a small icon appears in the corner during the broadcast of "SmackDown." The icon is visible only to people who are currently using Microsoft's WebTV, which amounts to around 10,000 of KBHK's 2.3 million potential viewers. When viewers click on the icon using their remote control, a small box on the bottom of the screen asks them if they would like to buy a T-shirt, and allows them to enter their size and payment information with a wireless keyboard. So far, orders have been less than 50.


"How many people click is not a big issue today," said Richard Fisher, president of RespondTV, San Francisco. "We have a random 30-second ad that is airing somewhere in the country with no promotion and with largely an audience that doesn't know what interactive television is and that has barely seen icons coming up before. It is not the time to be judging it based on response rates; it's the time to be judging it based on its effectiveness as a tool and how you can research that and understand it and learn from it."


RespondTV is one of only two companies conducting actual t-commerce applications in the United States, the other being Wink. Previously, response rates in the KBHK area have been very strong. The Domino's Pizza ad drew 150 completed orders from one commercial, while the Melissa Etheridge concert -- which offered a CDNow coupon for 30 percent off any of her albums -- drew a 46 percent click rate; 22 percent of those who clicked went as far as using their wireless keyboards to input their e-mail addresses.


"There is a power here that the Internet can't touch," Fisher said. "A viewer gets emotionally involved in something like the Melissa Etheridge concert. They are sitting there tapping their feet along with the music, and an interactive spot pops up to save money on her CDs. Take the Domino's pizza ad -- you have the bubbling cheese facing you at 5 p.m., and it's dinner time, and all you have to do is click, and it's delivered to your door. You can't beat that feeling."


The concert promotion, like the "SmackDown" T-shirts, had the extra advantage of adding a new revenue stream for KBHK in that CDNow agreed not only to the enhancement but also to be a commercial sponsor for the concert.


"Everything is an experiment at this point," Marshall said. "We've really just had a couple of takers so far for the T-shirts, but we are not so much looking to make money at this point as to iron out the wrinkles in the process. This has, and will in the future have, the potential to enhance our revenue stream in multiple ways. You have people who are sitting there watching TV, and by virtue of the program they are watching, they are already interested in the product," Marshall said. "It's quite a target market."
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