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Yo! MTV . . . Shops? : If the network likes the test results, it'll join QVC's world. There's moola to be made--and pitfalls to overcome

October 27, 1994|GAILE ROBINSON

On video shopping channels, it's not uncommon to hear hawkers describe cubic zirconia jewelry as stunning or call polyester pantsuits irresistible.

Now that Beavis and Butt-head have joined the ranks of the electronic shills, "it doesn't suck" can be added to the list of home shopping's fawning phrases.

MTV Networks--which includes VH-1, Nickelodeon and MTV--began testing the home shopping waters in August. On the distant horizon--if the tests went well--was a separate, 24-hour shopping channel that could compete for a share of a $2-billion-a-year industry. But since a wildly successful initial outing during the broadcast of Woodstock '94, complications have arisen.

"Products aren't ready, customized merchandise is late. We're walking in a world we've never been before," says Mark Rosenthal, executive vice president of MTV. "Some of the stuff we've never done before and we're having to piece it together."

Which explains why viewers who want their MTV shopping shows have only two chances left this year to shop--the premiere edition of "The Goods," which airs tonight, and what Isaac Mizrahi calls his "Frocumentary," which airs Sunday.

"The Goods" is the MTV and VH-1 showcase for clothes from Marc Jacobs, Todd Oldham and Anna Sui. Oldham, who has a recurring segment on MTV's "House of Style," has also designed housewares to be sold on VH-1. Mizrahi's line of TV sitcom-inspired clothes will be sold--where else?--on Nick at Nite.

Another show, "Gotta Get It," features such disparate items as NBA Courtside merchandise, Doc Marten boots and Tommy Hilfiger's combination backpack-campstool. It was supposed to air on VH-1 but, as with the other test programs, it will be pushed to 1995.

Rosenthal views MTV's foray into home shopping as only a test, one whose objective is instructional.

"At the end of the testing period," he predicts, "I will have a series of programs with enough different shows, spread across three very different TV networks, selling a ton of different merchandise, from housewares and electronics to high fashion items and fashion items that are nostalgic.

"At the end of the day, I'm going to have a pretty good idea what works with an audience."

*

There are only two major competitors in the home shopping arena: QVC (in 50 million homes, with 1993 sales of $1.22 billion) and the Home Shopping Network (in 60 million homes, with 1993 sales of $1.04 billion).

But the numbers speak even louder at MTV. The music channel is in 59 million American homes and another 240 million internationally. Asia and India got their MTV this month, jacking those figures into the stratosphere. VH-1 and Nickelodeon each are in more than 50 million U.S households and are beginning their global conquest.

Analysts say that should MTV Networks launch a shopping channel, it could be at the $1-billion mark in a few years.

"If you take a typical cable audience of 60 million homes, 8% have bought from QVC and Home Shopping Network," Rosenthal notes. "How do you get the other 92%? Higher quality. That's the opportunity. Our focus is narrow and specialized."

Gabe Doppelt, former editor in chief of Mademoiselle, lined up self-confessed Nick at Nite-watching Mizrahi, Oldham, Sui and Jacobs to create items exclusive to MTV, VH-1 and Nick at Nite.

"A lot of (shopping channels) have approached us, but the audience was not right," says Robert Duffy, Jacobs' partner. "Our customer is younger, smaller. . . . When Gabe approached us, it felt right."

Jacobs reproduced a dress from his collection for MTV at a fraction of the price. The original stretch wool-jersey dress, embedded with Swarovoski crystals, cost $500. The MTV version in rhinestone-covered cotton jersey sells for less than $100, a price ceiling Doppelt put on all the designers.

Sui cranked out an MTV-friendly black vinyl wrap skirt and brilliant-colored, cropped T-shirts printed with the theme of her last collection--a cheerleader.

Mizrahi has stitched up a full-body, Laura Petrie apron.

Cindy Crawford's commercials for "The Goods" sold Todd Oldham on MTV shopping. "When we saw that they were doing (the shows) in a young, enticing, professional way, we were inspired," says Oldham's business partner, Tony Longoria.

*

Yet critics from rival shopping networks say the look of MTV shopping is too entertaining, too hip and too fast-paced--folks won't buy.

Oldham says that's exactly where the critics are wrong: People don't need to be bored into a stupor to spend.

During MTV's first 30-minute shopping show, featuring Woodstock '94-related items, more than $1.5 million worth of telephone orders were taken in two days.

The 14-to-34-year-old MTV audience bought it all--the T-shirts, programs, hats and a $75 package of framed ticket, backstage pass and commemorative coin. Price seemed to be no object, nor did getting their youthful hands on a credit card.

But can that success be duplicated on a 24-hour MTV shopping channel?

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