Value Vision TV Focuses on WebTV Users

Restructuring its Web site to better accommodate WebTV users has helped Value Vision TV garner a strong following from the niche group as the home shopping channel prepares to enter the interactive television market.

WebTV users account for 5 percent to 10 percent of the site's unique visitors, representing 18,750 to 37,500 unique visitors per month. The site pulls in 980,000 visits monthly, of which 375,000 are unique visitors.

“It's a group we don't want to lose,” said Kevin Hanson, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Value Vision International Inc. “Our WebTV user population is higher than market standards. That was a huge surprise for us.”

This revelation came last May after site-tracking software found a 10 percent decrease in online traffic to its newly redesigned site.

The decline resulted from WebTV users abandoning the site because it did not allow them visuals of Value Vision's home shopping channel telecast.

“Our new design was unreadable,” Hanson said. “When we first did [the redesign], the site looked really nice, and we had a spike in traffic followed by a slight drop. What we found was the new design wasn't [compatible] for WebTV use.”

The new site also was incompatible for Internet Explorer 3 and Netscape 3 users. Value Vision, Minneapolis, changed the graphic design, including eliminating dynamic HTML. It also inserted coding to check whether a viewer could see Flash, and if not, the company published standard graphics for users who were typically WebTV users. The change also helped users of Internet Explorer 3 and Netscape 3.

“We started bringing the site design back to WebTV compatibility and slowly built that market up,” Hanson said. “This particular group is very important to us, and we needed to make their [online] experience pleasurable.”

Value Vision also is exploring the interactive television market. The company plans an initiative, but Hanson would not provide details.

Michael Kocernack, president/CEO of Backchannel Media, an interactive and traditional media buying service, said he is not surprised that Value Vision would want to enter interactive television and focus on retaining WebTV users.

“WebTV appeals to an older demographic — people 40 and older — who use it for e-mail and prefer to purchase items using a remote,” Kocernack said. “WebTV is very much a transitional product going toward full interactive television. It's a first-generation product, and there are a lot of companies out there that are improving on the product and coming out with next-generation products for WebTV users.”

Value Vision said in December that 10 percent of online visitors came via WebTV. The group also is showing higher conversion rates that Hanson would not specify.

Women older than 40 with an annual household income of $70,000 constitute Value Vision's primary demographic.

Andy Sernovitz, CEO of Internet marketing company GasPedal Ventures, New York, said Value Vision appeared to have an unusually high percentage of WebTV users.

“They seemed to have carved out a little niche for themselves,” Sernovitz said. “I think most people in the industry forget that there are WebTV users out there and make the mistake of ignoring them. For older Americans especially, WebTV is big. You purchase the box and stick it on your television and you're done. Many people prefer that over purchasing a computer and sitting in front of it.”

Value Vision will continue to make WebTV users a top priority when it relaunches its site in June.

The company last month partnered with NBC to use its brand name and the Peacock symbol to improve brand awareness. Value Vision will change its name to ShopNBC and Both companies agreed to explore other joint opportunities that could include promotional-related services and merchandising.

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