HSN: Where Multi-Channel Becomes Even More Multi

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When Brian Bradley left Circuit City as its senior vice president, Multi-Channel (well, more precisely, when Circuit City went out of business and left Bradley and tons of others unemployed), years after having worked at J.C. Penney, he felt that he had a good handle on retail merged-channel, cross-channel and multi-channel issues. But when he began his new gig as executive vice president at HSN (formerly the Home Shopping Network), Bradley discovered television as another retail channel and started looking at customer interactions very differently.

One of Bradley's first takeaways from the $2.8 billion HSN was that consumers' interactions with content are strongly influenced by their physical location. In fact, it’s just as much of an influence as their mindset.

The mindset impact is well understood. A consumer who is not interested in a new car might find a car commercial on TV annoying and an unwelcome interruption of a favorite program. But if that consumer's car dies the next day and he needs new transportation right away, the consumer might see that commercial radically differently. Now that ad could be offering fascinating information that is of much greater value than the TV show. Same commercial, same consumer, same living room but a different mindset.

Bradley now sees that consumer’s location as having an equal influence. Take the same time-crunched consumer and drop him into a store while he looks to buy a washing machine. The retailer has a demonstration video running. The consumer might look at it for 30 or 40 seconds, but he won't watch it for 10 minutes. Take that same consumer with the same mindset and place him at home, and there's a much greater chance that he may willingly watch a 30-minute demo.

Why? It's expectation. Consumers see brick-and-mortars as places to look, touch and buy products. Video demos feel out of place in that context. At home watching TV, however, the expectations are much more tolerant.

"Depending on where a person physically is can dictate how you can have their attention," Bradley said. "Out on the street? She'll have seconds. In-store? A minute or two. On the Web? Maybe 15 minutes. But on the TV? Hours. People go to the Web with certain goals in mind. There's a lot of bouncing back and forth as they're trying to solve a problem. There's more ADD, bouncing around."

Given that the Web and TV can both be viewed at home, why is there such a huge difference between them? What if—as has already started to happen—Web and TV content are both appearing to consumers through the same high-resolution giant display? Then you'd have the same mindset, the same consumer, the same location and the same content. Does it still matter whether it's being transmitted via HTML or through a traditional television broadcast? At least for now, Bradley thinks it does still make a difference.

That difference is cultural, and it's again based on expectations that have been created over a lifetime of experiences. "I do believe in convergence between a TV and a computer. But I think that the psychological difference will be with us for quite some time."

Still, HSN is pushing its video in any direction it can. "We're the number-one provider of video on YouTube," Bradley said. "We're enabling the customer who wants to pull that message on her terms."