"They're coming into our business and I think we need to bleed back into their business," said Greg Renker, president of Guthy-Renker Corp., Palm Desert, Calif., at last week's fifth annual National Infomercial Marketing Association International conference.
QVC and Home Shopping Network have begun producing infomercials of their own, while aggressively seeking products already proven through infomercials for their home-shopping shows. The current top-ranked infomercial, for fitness guru Tony Little's AB Isolator, was among the first produced by HSN Direct.
HSN Direct also unveiled plans for Test Drive+. President Kevin Harrington described it as a "hybrid shopping and infomercial" format that will gauge the effectiveness of sales techniques on a minute-by-minute basis, in a way that typical half-hour infomercials can't. Several products will be sold in a single show airing on Spree, HSN's third and smallest channel, and successful ones could be made into standalone programs later.
"It'll allow branded-type products to do an infomercial to see if it might be right for them," Mr. Harrington said.
At the same time, QVC's QDirect plans a new transactional TV series called Preview 2000, planned as a lower-cost "national focus group" for marketers unwilling to risk investing in infomercial production and media costs, said Bob Perkins, QDirect's president. The half-hour show, to air on broadcast and cable stations beginning in January, will feature products in a magazine-style format.
Unlike traditional infomercial marketers, which must set up their own telemarketing, fulfillment, customer service, media buying and production, QVC and HSN offer access to their own facilities. They also offer minute-by-minute research, which can help refine pitches by focusing on which selling points spur the most orders.
But Mr. Perkins believes the home-shopping and infomercial audiences, while similar demographically, have separate orientations.
"Home shopping is really built on a core group of people who watch over time and develop a relationship with the show," he said. "That's very different from the people who happen to bump into a program at 2 in the morning."
Jewelry, for instance, is a staple of shorter home-shopping segments, but hasn't translated to infomercials; the reverse is often true of motivational tapes, industry executives said.
But amid the expansion of the estimated $3.5 billion electronic retailing business, several players face hurdles.
As expected (AA, Oct. 17), QVC last week merged its struggling On Q service into Q2, another start-up shopping service that had shared the channel in 10 million homes. Q2 President Candice Carpenter-closely linked to outgoing QVC Chairman Barry Diller-was dismissed, and two senior VPs will assume her duties, a spokeswoman said.
Fingerhut Cos.' S The Shopping Channel is still hunting for investors with deep pockets, but claims it will begin programming to 4 million homes in December.
And on the infomercial side, former top guns in the industry are hurting. Regal Corp. is in Chapter 11, National Media Corp. is scraping for new capital and USA Direct, flush last year with the Susan Powter phenomenon, has no hit shows.
Several executives bemoaned what they called the lingering image of an industry still populated by "medallions and pinky rings." They hope to add credibility and widen their still-limited audience with more high-quality fare.