For decades, networks have experimented with T-commerce — technologies that would allow viewers to act on impulse to buy the clothing, furniture and other items they see while watching a television show.
A new mobile application from Fox Broadcasting seeks to deliver on that promise, starting with tonight’s episode of its popular prime-time situation comedy “New Girl.”
The “Fox Now” app, initially available on the Apple Inc. iPad, synchronizes the tablet with the TV show and enables viewers to buy certain items that appear on screen (to start, a set of distinctive salt and pepper shakers and $119 bracelets worn by a character on the show).
“Every episode of some shows will have some merchandise associated with it, and the app will make it available for purchase,” said Hardie Tankersley, Fox’s vice president of platforms and innovation.
American Express sponsors the T-commerce feature — and offers its members a one-time $35 credit if they use an eligible card that has been linked through Facebook to make purchases through the app or at www.fox.com/shopping.
“It’s giving them an opportunity to get more of what they love,” said Lou Paskalis, vice president of global media and mobile marketing for American Express.
The elusive notion of turning the TV into a cash register has intrigued network executives since the days when NBC’s “Friends” sitcom ruled prime time, and technologists promoted the idea of viewers clicking a “buy” button on their remote controls to purchase Jennifer Aniston’s sweater.
But there has been plenty of trial and error.
ABC launched a Shop the Soaps initiative in 2002 that let fans go to the network’s website to purchase a pair of 14-karat gold, faux-diamond drop earrings worn by a character on “All My Children.” TiVo teamed up with Amazon.com in 2008 to allow subscribers to use their remote controls to buy new books featured on “Oprah.”
Guy Finley, executive director of the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance trade group, said an application developed for the FX show “Sons of Anarchy” — which viewers used to buy items such as $400 leather jackets sporting the series logo — demonstrated the idea finally has caught on with consumers.
“This is the future,” Finley said. “This is what we see as the opportunity around all these things.”
Tankersley said Fox’s television apps, which also are available through the Xbox game console, on Windows 8 devices, and will be coming soon to Android phones and tablets, allow some cable and satellite TV subscribers to watch full episodes of Fox shows a day after they’ve aired.
Fox also has developed supplemental material for those who use their iPad screens as a companion to their TV viewing.
Viewers who tune in to “Bones,” “New Girl,” “The Mindy Project,” “The X Factor,” “Glee,” “Fringe” and “American Dad!” can browse photos and videos, keep up with social media conversations about the shows, or share a funny line of dialogue with the press of a button.
“We think the experience of watching prime-time broadcast TV is inherently social,” said Tankersley,
“and we want to be able to grease the skids on that social experience.”