Television, shop of the nation

Let's talk platforms for a bit. Business-to-consumer e-commerce platforms to be specific.

Let’s talk platforms for a bit. Business-to-consumer e-commerce platforms to be specific.

Actually, it’s just an excuse to talk about this radical new way of connecting to your customers without all the stuff and nonsense that’s associated with online shopping.

Instead of a Web site, with all those issues about security, credit card fraud, privacy concerns - not to mention getting lost in the noise of about ten trillion different sites all competing for space - this new platform offers a one-button purchase system, allows users to enter their information once and never have to do it again and has no problems whatsoever with fake credit card numbers or dodgy delivery addresses. There’s already a built-in user base of around 90% of New Zealand households and that figure can only continue to grow.

What is it? Television, of course. Y’know, that thing that looks like a monitor and has a really small keyboard without any letters. It’s the real home of B2C and has countless advantages over the PC.

In the UK it turns out the TV beats the pants off the PC when it comes to online shopping and we should get a taste of it in the next year. Sky TV will launch its new digital set-top box (now with added interactivity) and from there the world is pretty much your oyster.

The system already knows where the customer lives, so delivery isn’t a problem. It can bill them directly, adding the charge to the monthly account, so no credit card mess. Best of all, customers will be able to watch your infomercial and then buy the product while the urge is still with them. TVs are far more user-friendly than the average PC (when did your TV last crash?). And if you want to reach a mainstream audience, what better way than the ultimate mainstream device?

How successful is it? In the UK, Domino’s Pizza sells 50,000 pounds worth of pizza a month via its interactive TV set-up. Its “traditional” online sales don’t even come close.

It’s this kind of functionality, the ability to buy on demand, that TVNZ sees as vital to its future growth if not its actual existence. That the government has decided to rethink the future of TVNZ is a moot point — shareholders always think about the future so it shouldn’t be a surprise to the TVNZ team.

But if government decides TVNZ can do without digital TV and all that goes with it, it’s dead wrong. It would be analogous to saying “we’ll have a black and white service, but you can forget about that colour thing — that’s not going to happen”. I’d give it about ten years, when having a TV that doesn’t allow for interaction will be seen as bizarre and strange and terribly old-fashioned. Sure they’ll still be around, but you wouldn’t go out and buy one, would you?

Government has to realise that TVNZ is more than just television; it will soon be a shopping mall as well. Denying TVNZ access to that kind of revenue will not only cause problems for the state broadcaster - it will be the end of it. These things being what they are, it will take a while before we realise it’s dying as it plods dinosaur-like into the 21st century. But dead it will be and we will have lost a state asset that could be a money-maker for us all.

It looks like it’s time to re-write those e-commerce proposals and get ready for another revolution, albeit one from an unlikely source. How many of you working in the B2C sector have plans that include the TV as a channel? The two fit together quite well — and any content that is configured for a Web site could easily be translated to a TV site (if that’s the right term). I think there’s more future in this than in mobile e-commerce to your cellphone. Consumers like the TV, and looking at the advertising spend in this week’s National Business Review (around $2.5 million for the top five advertisers alone) it seems clear there’s a market there and it’s ready for e-commerce. The question is, are you?

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