By  on June 21, 1994

NEW YORK -- Was the concept of transactional television overhyped?

The budding genre, which marries entertainment and selling, was trumpeted by the industry as the next programming breakthrough.

It was the hot topic at television and direct response conventions. Everybody wanted to do it, from infomercial companies to broadcast networks.

But last week's cancellation of Joan Rivers' "Can We Shop?" might have dealt a serious blow to the future of transactional programming. QRT Entertainment, a production partnership formed by QVC Inc., Regal Communications and Tribune Entertainment, said the last "Can We Shop?" will air on July 15.

The show was launched in January, the first nationally syndicated home shopping program on broadcast TV. Although cable television had been a rich field for infomercials and home shopping, there had been little precedent for home shopping on network TV.

Transactional TV can take many forms, but the essential concept is a program that will draw viewers who might not necessarily be buyers. Sales are important, but ratings are even more vital. A personality who serves not only as salesperson, but as an entertainer, therefore, is also paramount. Proponents of transactional TV would like to see the category blossom on broadcast television, rather than on cable stations.

"Can We Shop?" took a soft-sell approach, but Rivers' banter with guests always circled back to the product. An announcer provided information about prices and ordering.

Since January, the program has sold about $14 million worth of merchandise to more than 300,000 viewers.

Industry executives said the program's demise could make network and station executives think twice about adding such programs to their lineups.

"Joan Rivers was a proven commodity in the broadcast community as a talk show host and was also a proven commodity on QVC," said one TV executive. "If Joan can't do it, who can?"

"I'm terribly upset because it's a bad omen for people like us who are trying to get transactional shows on the air," said Earl Greenburg, president and chief executive of Transactional Media Inc., which specializes in the category. "When companies as strong as Tribune and QVC can't do it, it's very unsettling. If this had worked, there would have been a glut of transactional shows in the marketplace."

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