SMALL PLAYERS WITH BIG IDEAS
Byline: SHARON EDELSON
NEW YORK — Fashion & Beauty Network and Merchandise Entertainment Television, two upstart shopping channels, are starting small.
They are using satellite transponders to reach the estimated 6 million homes in the U.S. with satellite dishes. That’s a minute market compared with the 100 million households that have cable, but the startups have no choice. Cable television is already filled with specialty channels. However, satellite dish owners are potentially good home shopping customers since many live in rural areas without shopping alternatives.
The two new services don’t hold the traditional home shopping format sacred. Fashion & Beauty bills itself as a magazine-style fashion program that also sells things. And MET will incorporate selling with celebrity interviews, concerts and sports.
The MET “superstore of superstars” lineup could feature some big names — the network said it is negotiating with Garth Brooks — as well as some who are famous through association with other celebrities, such as Jennifer Flavin, a model who dated Sylvester Stallone. She’ll sell a treatment line called Serious Skin Care and activewear called My Body and Me.
A spokesman for Garth Brooks could not be reached.
MET, which has been testing shows and officially launches on Aug. 1, will try to use entertainment to hook viewers into shopping. Each half hour segment will be interrupted by 12 minutes of selling.
According to Edward Litwak, the chairman and chief executive officer of LM Network, MET’s parent company, MET should do $50 million in sales in the first year. He added that MET will be broadcast via a GE satellite transponder that reaches about 4 million homes with dishes.
“If you’re channel surfing and Garth Brooks is being interviewed, you’ll stop and listen,” Litwak said. “Two minutes into the interview, there will be a Garth Brooks T-shirt for sale. You don’t know it’s home shopping. You think it’s an interview. Then, boom, a product comes on.”
Carol Connors, a songwriter who co-wrote the theme from “Rocky” with Bill Conte and Ann Robbins, will sing and cook, but while the chicken is baking, cookware will be sold. The show will air in mid-August.
MET, based in Solana Beach, Calif., also expects to carry sporting events in their entirety and follow them up by pitching memorabilia.
In addition, Litwak said he has agreements with Paolo Gucci and Josie Natori for jewelry.
Sarah Barton King, a British designer whose company, Oxford & Swan, makes silk accessories, said she hopes to sell on MET. Litwak said he has approached Shakira Caine about selling her jewelry on MET. He will be in London next week to meet with Caine.
Can MET’s combination of light entertainment and intrusive selling work in Europe?
Alan Rainer, director of overseas operations for MET, thinks so. He said a sister network, which has been in the works, will be ready to launch via satellite in three to four months.
Rainer, a film industry veteran, is milking his celebrity contacts.
“We will be doing a show from Langham’s, Michael Caine’s restaurant in London,” he said. “That’s where all the celebrities go. It’s like your Spago.”
The show will be called “Guest Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
Compared with MET’s smorgasbord approach, Fashion & Beauty Network will seem more like a niche service.
Programming will consist of fashion and beauty tips, shopping information, interviews and a half hour of home shopping every four hours. The network, which will be supported by advertising, will devote a minimum of two minutes per hour to local advertising. It also plans to make money by selling cosmetics and apparel, beginning in December.
Ramy El-Batrawi, president, declined to discuss sales volume.
Shows will feature high-fashion and mass merchandise, El-Batrawi said. His production team has been combing the collections and interviewing designers, including Valentino and Gianni Versace, and models such as Christie Brinkley.
After producing infomercials on “the battle between the sexes,” and alcohol and drug dependency, El-Batrawi was ready for another challenge. He said he shot hours of footage for the Fashion & Beauty Network, which will be launched Oct. 1.
El-Batrawi, who owns Genesis Media Group, a production company in Cooper City, Fla., said, “The cost of media time has gotten so expensive that it’s really hard to make money in infomercials.”
Initially, the Fashion & Beauty Network will reach 6 million homes with satellite dishes. It will deliver four hours of programming daily.
El-Batrawi said the company is leasing a studio, control room and uplink facilities from Home Shopping Network.
He is talking to two cable networks about buying blocks of air time regularly. Within six months, he hopes to expand to a 24-hour service.