It is 1984. Kevin Harrington had just gotten cable and was stretched out in front of the Discovery channel enjoying the crystal clear signal—a vast improvement over those antiquated rabbit ears. In the midst of kicking off his shoes and attempting to clear his ever-busy mind at the day's end, he was shocked to see color bars appear on his television screen. Moments before, he had been absorbed into a National Geographic special and then wham!, the screen faded to black and up came bars with that annoying tone that makes you reach for the volume knob (yes, knob). Kevin's attempt at slowing his mind failed, as he quickly saw a business opportunity.
In the months that followed, Kevin signed a multiyear deal with Discovery, claiming the six hours of overnight color bars as his own. He partnered with inventors and trade-show pitchmen to create the first infomercials. In 1989, Kevin expanded his concept to Europe and Asia. Thus, the infomercial and genesis of a big piece of our industry came to be.
Fast-forward 31 years and the direct response industry is balancing on an ever-shifting landscape. Those engrained in the industry must re-invent their strategies for engagement almost yearly. The customer is not who they once were.
Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with Kevin Harrington and chat about his new e-retailing platform, Starshop. Kevin has never been one to sit still. Decades have passed since early infomercial hits like Food Saver, the Ginsu Knife, and The Great Wok of China. Today, our culture is in the process of recalibrating itself to a fully digital age. For the direct response industry, is time for something new.
Changing Viewing Habits
In past years, Kevin says he has attended most of our industry conferences both in the U.S. and international. Everywhere he went, he heard the same story. Infomercials are tough. Less and less success stories are out there. Many are saying that long-form is driving the final nails into its coffin and the average infomercial lifespan of a good product is three to six months before it moves to brick-and-mortar retail. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part, the expectations of the public are rapidly changing. People are hooked on 60-second YouTube videos they can watch anywhere, not two-minute (or 30-minute) product pitches anchored to traditional televisions.
Kevin confesses that he observed this in his own boys, ages 19 and 23. He watched as a perfectly good TV sat dark in the room and both kids gazed into their smartphone screens for entertainment and so much more.
According to Morgan Stanley, TV viewership has plummeted 58 percent in the past decade. Forbes magazine stated in March 2014 that cable subscribers are canceling their service in droves. However, “cable companies are gaining broadband customers faster than they are losing video subscribers.” In 2014, “Comcast picked up 1.3 million Internet subscribers even as it lost 300,000 in TV.” The wireless router offers so much more!
A New Frontier
Kevin decided to blaze into a new frontier and create an entertaining shopping experience unlike anything seen before. Launched on June 3 in New York Times Square, Starshop debuted to huge attendance and fanfare. What’s more, the event was covered by Us Weekly, People magazine, and The New York Times.
Simply stated, Starshop is an app. But, if you click on that app, an entire universe unfolds revealing a highly curated e-commerce platform, anchored by celebrity products and entertaining videos.
If you drop by, you are likely to see videos featuring Snookie, Beyonce, Flo-Rida, Paris Hilton, Rianna, Paula Abdul, to name a few. Kevin says he has deals with dozens of celebrities and their agents at this point. His lead producer creating these videos is Terence Newnan, an Emmy-award winning daytime TV producer with shows like Rosie O’Donnell and Dr. Oz tucked into his feathered cap.
Starshop's main studios are a wall of glass overlooking Times Square in Manhattan and send an instant message that Starshop in no yesteryear yawn-fest of traditional product pitching. Holding the reigns to Starshop's daily operations are Kevin's eldest son, Brian, and Jim Morrison, former president of L'Oreal cosmetics.
In 1984, Kevin looked to Discovery to launch his first products. In 2015, he looked to Sprint, the third largest cellular carrier in the U.S. In addition, Kevin has partnered with Insight Media Plus, a Sprint subsidiary, to develop the Starshop app and provide access to Sprint's 55 million subscribers. Soon Starshop will come pre-loaded on the screens of Sprint smartphones, providing daily push notifications to their users.
From the marketing side, Starshop's celebrities will promote their product lines and appearances on social media. Paula Abdul, for instance, has 658,000 followers on Facebook and 2.3 million followers on Twitter. Recently, she encouraged people to check out a beauty kit on Starshop. She does this weekly...and she is only one of Starshop's stable of celebrities.
The Starshop app is available for download from all the most popular app stores. Currently, it is version 1.0, however, there are still many bugs to work out.
The June 3 launch is only part of Kevin's strategy. His goal is to have Starshop purring along by the holiday season. He adds that his team has acquired hundreds of products that are not even posted on their app yet. They simply cannot move fast enough. Every day, they are shooting more videos, signing more deals, and increasing their rapidly expanding offerings.
I believe Starshop is one to watch very closely. Large DRTV networks have apps as well, but for the most part, they are redundancies of the same selling strategies of the networks themselves. Starshop is not that. It is a new evolution in direct response and dare I say, could be the first real indicator of what the next decade holds for our industry!
Photo by franky242/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Cory Bergeron is founder of Pitch Video.