Shopping Channel shifts its focus, Partington learns the art of television retailing the hard way

The Shopping Channel has had a pretty rough ride since it launched with great, Eva Longoria-inspired fanfare last year. But it's still alive—albeit much leaner, in a different location and with a modified focus. 

Initially, the channel, which is owned by Ogilvy don Greg Partington, started out producing eight hours of live content a day from a studio at Sky Albany and is thought to have had around 16 presenters and a total of more than 50 staff. Now the website shows it's down to four presenters, a source says there is a team of around one dozen working on it, founding chief executive Alistair Duff is leaving, and, by being forced to run repeated content, it looks to have become more of an infomercial channel than a shopping channel.

StopPress asked to speak with Partington about the changes but the gatekeepers at Bullet PR requested we send through some questions via email instead. Those questions were sent three days ago but have yet to be answered (we'll update the story if we receive a response). But according to a release, the business has moved into "new expanded studio facilities in Ruru Street, Eden Terrace, central Auckland and the purpose-built studio, a converted warehouse", will be operational from 4 June 2013. 

Some we spoke to thought the company probably should've been closed down in December when production was cut back to two days a week and a number of staff were let go, but Partington certainly isn't renowned as a quitter. And in a release, he says it makes sense to invest now in greater broadcasting and production capabilities for the company. 

“For our initial start-up phase, we decided early on to use third party studio broadcasting facilities. But after eight months on air, viewership continuing to climb, and the number of products available for sale on the channel increasing every day, we are now in a more robust position to make an investment in our own production facilities."  

One source says this description of the new facilities is somewhat exaggerated and it's basically moving into a concrete bunker. They also believe the model was flawed from the start, and rather than running an airtime model that sold media, the company needed to focus on retailing. That change seems to have eventuated now, as there are certainly a lot more products available, so perhaps Partington has weathered the storm and settled on an appropriate, much leaner model for this market. 

The channel is available on Channel 18 on both Sky TV and Freeview HD, with products sold on the e-commerce platform at www.shoppingchannel.co.nz (one source said the channel is almost like a round-about way of sexing up e-commerce). Content is also broadcast on the TV3 network for one hour each morning at 10am, five days a week, while content is also broadcast to Australian homes on channel 64 in the Prime 7 viewing area, and channel 75 in the Seven Network viewing area. 

According to the release, Nielsen ratings show consecutive monthly increases this year in cumulative viewership, with April up 14 percent on March, which was 22 percent up on February (we asked Nielsen for more detailed numbers but it is not a released channel so no viewing information is available).  

“We have learnt a lot in the last eight months, developing a great deal of expertise in television retailing. We are constantly re-evaluating and tweaking the business model to make the company viable, as we concentrate on maximising revenues from a more efficient cost base. In particular, we have a deeper understanding of the powerful causality between demonstration selling on television and purchasing both from our call centre and online store. There's an art to this, and we've had to learn it the hard way."

Partington says it will be launching 150 specially selected new products in the next two months, with international brands including Canada's Ice Paradise diamonds from the Arctic, America's sellout Rhonda Sheer shapewear and Inika Cosmetics from the UK available. 

"The new studio will turbo charge The Shopping Channel business, enhancing our ability to produce high-volume television content to promote the increasing number of products on the channel,” he says.   

The company has also started searching for a new chief executive.

“Al has done a great job as our first chief executive, working with us to take The Shopping Channel through its launch phase. He will be missed, and we wish him the very best in his next venture."

Duff said in the release he is proud of what The Shopping Channel has achieved in the "exhilarating ride" that was its first eight months on air but he has decided the time is right to take on a new challenge. In his previous roles at the TV networks, Duff gained a reputation as a great salesman, and that was obviously one of the main reasons he was hired for this role, but one source familiar with the situation felt he needed to be more of a chief executive. 

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