The shopping network channels are looking to make shopping as engaging as regular television

By Melina Gerosa
Updated April 22, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

Goodbye, cubic zirconium. Hello, Seinfeld T-shirts. After winning over lovers of jewels and figurines, the $2.5 billion home-shopping industry is now setting its sights on TV, movie, and music fans with a new wave of programs designed to entertain as well as entice. Soon, you’ll be able to buy CDs from John Oates of Hall and Oates, order videos from Rex Reed, and get Beavis and Butt-head T-shirts by phone. ”QVC and HSN are reaching only 8 percent of the market,” says Mark Rosenthal of MTV Networks, which introduces its first shopping spots in June. ”People are saying, ‘Okay, how do you get the other 92 percent?”’ The answer, insiders feel, lies in making the channels as compelling as regular TV. Among the planned new shopping services:

Catalog 1 The brainchild of Time Warner (this magazine’s corporate parent) and Spiegel, Inc., this New York- based network features minidramas, ”news” reports, and other gimmicks to sell merchandise from more than eight mail- order catalogs (such as Crate & Barrel’s). ”Our mission is catalog shopping as TV entertainment,” says Catalog 1 manager Rod Parker. Also in the lineup: Viewer’s Edge, hosted by Reed, features hard-to-find videos, TV-themed collectibles, and specialized movie kitsch. Now available in four test markets, Catalog 1 plans to roll out nationwide over the next year.

MTV Networks On its first jaunt down the information superhighway, MTV (and its sister networks VH-1 and Nickelodeon) will sell CD packages, concert tickets, tour jackets, hip-hop clothing, and Ren & Stimpy merchandise in promotional spots that could easily double as music videos. If viewers respond positively, the network will launch its own retail channel.

Q2 This yupscale, weekend version of QVC will debut May 21. Unlike its mother channel, Q2 will air regular programming, such as Pillow Talk, a late-night talk show hawking how-to books and videos, and lingerie, and Summer Sizzler, specializing in beach books. ”The problem has been the randomness of home shopping,” says Q2’s Candice Carpenter. ”This is more like a network. Every show is like a series-on at the same time every week.” And since QVC struck gold with celebrity spots, Q2 also plans to have its share of famous guests.

Maxmusic Coproduced by John Oates and direct-marketing expert J.W. Roth, this hour-long program just debuted on E! Entertainment Television. Its Mad About You-like couple sells classic rock (from Simon & Garfunkel to Aerosmith) to 25- to 54-year-olds. ”They’re what we call ‘passive buyers,”’ says Oates. ”They play air guitar to their favorite tapes, but they can’t deal with going to Tower Records.”

Though it might be hard to believe, these new channels represent only the tip of the shopping iceberg. According to reports, British rocker Peter Gabriel has started work on home-shopping programming, and HSN will launch Television Shopping Mall this summer.

Does all this add up to one (or two or three) shopping networks too many? ”The failure rate of home-shopping services is over 90 percent,” says Craig Bibb, a Paine Webber analyst. ”They can try to draw in new viewers and to reinvent formats, but the real opportunity will be when there’s interactive programming.” But Q2’s Carpenter thinks otherwise. ”The people who get cable represent $600 billion in retail spending,” she says. ”Home shopping today is a $2.5 billion business. There’s a lot of room to grow.”