eBay CEO John Donahoe in an investors' call on April 18 mentioned the upcoming app. It is designed to function with specific TV shows, where the app markets items that relate to the show.
"Our mobile team came up with this application where while you're watching TV with the eBay iPad app, you enter whatever channel you're watching and the TV show that you're watching. eBay inventory associated with that TV show pops up, and it's a very compelling experience," he said. "And now we're doing experimentation with some celebrity curation and other things. So this whole notion of a dual-device experience, having an iPad or a smartphone in your lap while you're watching TV, I think you'll see a lot of shopping innovation around that."
That's impressively clever, depending on how far eBay takes the idea. If it's generally tied into a TV series—watch Nova and see scientific items on auction; watch American Idol and see musical instrument and microphone auctions—that's interesting.
But what if it worked closely with show producers and time-synched with what is going on right then? Consider if the characters on a drama are sending out for pizza, and then an ad appears for a local pizza shop that also delivers? (OK, that wouldn't be from eBay, but Google Ads could get in on the action, too, no?) What if the characters are about to get mugged and auctions pop up on the screen for tear gas dispensers? Or—and this is something someone might actually do—when the character comes out wearing a specific outfit, an auction for that specific outfit pops up.
This concept would work best if there is extensive cooperation between a show's producers and eBay, which could easily happen. But could this be expanded to syndication? What if the app explored thousands of shows, appealing to various demographics, and then did time-coding. As in "we watched this show and saw that the jewelry was worked in at minute 16, so that's when we'll pop up with our pearls promotion."
What eBay is doing is challenging how we think of selling online. TV ads have historically been sequential. You see nine minutes of show, two minutes of ads, some more show, and then some more ads. With a little product placement sprinkled in, there was some simultaneous marketing and content. But if consumers are already interacting with an iPad while watching TV, it opens up quite a few new possibilities.