In its second-largest acquisition, Amazon buys the company for $970 million.
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"Consumers press the FiOS TV button on their remotes when prompted by an interactive overlay that History runs periodically on the upper right corner of the screen," a spokesman for the company explains. "With the touch of a button on a remote, the screen will split in two, with items for purchase on the right."
Delivery Agent did not say how many consumers bought during the show, nor did it provide specific details about the revenue split with Verizon and History except to say that all parties received cuts of the transactions. For such t-commerce, Delivery Agent powers the e-retail operations of the participating networks, says CEO Mike Fitzsimmons, but he says the company will announce direct partnerships with major retailers in early 2013.
Another t-commerce enabler is Shazam, a web-based service available via an app on tablets and smartphones that, when activated, identifies music tracks by name and artist. Its Shazam for TV tool, which works for more than 160 channels in the United States, can similarly identify the programming being watched and offer up related information. A July integration with an episode of Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment's "Raw," for example, let TV viewers accessing the app buy tickets to upcoming WWE events, WWE apparel and the wrestlers' theme songs. Shazam declined to reveal details on how many viewers purchased.
But not everything in t-commerce is so new. Jewelry Television, or JTV, is a home shopping network and e-retailer that was established in 1993. The retailer sees t-commerce as a further development of its business, says chief strategy officer Tim Engle.
He imagines JTV connecting its products to awards shows that sparkle with the bling worn by actresses and to dramas featuring fashionable characters; he envisions JTV would enable shoppers to buy via remote controls on web-enabled TVs. As a first step JTV now feeds its live programming to Roku, an online streaming video service provider that lets consumers stream web content to their TVs without going through a cable or satellite TV provider.
But JTV finds it difficult to put too much faith in a single video or TV platform because no single service works easily across all TVs and related devices to facilitate t-commerce, Engle says, echoing a point made by analysts. "Until that happens, it is difficult to commit resources in a way that can support all the various platforms," he says.
There are at least two companies with the deep pockets and brand recognition that could potentially create a unified TV/web selling service—Google and Apple Inc. But both have stumbled in trying to extend their reach to the TV set.
Google TV—which operates via a small box located between a cable or satellite receiver and a consumer's TV—launched in 2010 and is designed to facilitate web use via televisions. Experts say it has failed to gain much traction. Google also has started to offer broadband Internet, TV and DVR services in the Kansas City area—Google says its Nexus 7 tablet can act as the remote control—but the t-commerce implications are not immediately clear beyond giving consumers access to digital content.
Google did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did Apple, which in March launched the third generation of its Apple TV digital media receiver. It provides access to iTunes, Netflix and other services on TVs. But Apple TV does not facilitate much e-commerce beyond computers, music players and digital content—nor does Apple offer access to an endless shelf of other retail products that online consumers want, analysts note.
And so eyes turn to Amazon.com, which has that inventory, and which has been moving deeper into streamed TV show and movies with Amazon Instant Video, the app for which comes pre-loaded on hundreds of late-model web-enabled TVs, Blu-rays, game consoles and digital video recorders. Amazon did not comment, either.
McQuivey says it's hard to imagine anyone but the biggest of e-commerce players thriving in t-commerce. "You've got to have incredible scale, so no matter what someone chooses to watch, you will have a product suitable for him," he says.
But for even the large operators, the road to t-commerce will include some big potholes, he says. That's because there will certainly be fights over how t-commerce revenue is split. "That will be the biggest challenge, and believe me, it will be ugly," McQuivey says. "Programmers' blood will boil when they think of others making money off their content."
For its part, eBay didn't have to make any specific deals with the notoriously controlling International Olympic Committee, nor NBC, for the sale of Olympic products via the app; eBay dealt only with individual sellers, Steve Yankovich, eBay's vice president of mobile, says. But as t-commerce becomes more complicated—perhaps by more deeply synching the content on the screen with products on a tablet—more deals will have to be made, he says.
Looking at t-commerce right now seems more like studying a map than gliding on some long, flat highway. But for consumers the TV and the web are already converging, which suggests online shopping via the TV remote can't be far down the road.