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Home Shopping Brand HSN Heads to Hollywood to Woo Celebrities, Challenge Rival QVC

In the battle for home shoppers, HSN has long trailed rival QVC. But as it continues to rebrand itself, executives at the Florida-based company may have found the answer to attract more viewers, and as a result, more customers: Hollywood.

Through a new partnership with United Talent Agency and its branded entertainment offshoot United Entertainment Group, HSN is opening a West Coast office with plans to aggressively pursue deals with actors, musicians and film properties, offering a portion of the sales of products for valuable air time and an online push.

HSN underwent a major makeover that began seven years ago, when Mindy Grossman left Nike to take control of the retail giant as its CEO. The Home Shopping Network name was shortened, sets on its seven soundstages were modernized, and the look of its shows, produced at its St. Petersburg headquarters, were overhauled with new cameras, better lighting and graphics.

"We had to reinvent what we were doing," explains Andy Sheldon, chief creative officer at HSNi and general manager of HSN Entertainment. "We redefined the network and took a more transparent, conversational, girls-going-shopping approach. It became much more about storytelling."

That has involved creating original programming that features talent or visiting film sets. The network started to showcase more celebrities, which boosted viewership -- a strategy that also has worked for West Chester, Penn.-based QVC, whose $8 billion-a-year business dwarfs HSN's $3 billion annual haul.

But hanging a shingle with UEG and UTA will enable HSN to elevate its brand at a time when talent agencies and managers have never been more interested in building nontraditional businesses around their clients. Sheldon moved to Los Angeles 10 months ago, and recently began building a team of three staffers, who will work out of joint office space with UEG.

"HSN's presence in Hollywood plants a flag in the ground declaring its commitment to the entertainment industry, and that it is a serious player in the celebrity business space, as well as for entertainment marketers seeking innovative solutions," says UEG chief Jarrod Moses.

HSN knows it needs to court younger audiences to boost sales, and has been able to attract Jennifer Lopez, Padma Lakshmi and celebrity chefs like Curtis Stone and Lorena Garcia.

But whereas QVC has lured Nicole Richie, 50 Cent, Heidi Klum and even Disney's Muppets, HSN has relied more on music stars, with Michael Bolton, Rod Stewart, Tony Bennett, Earth Wind & Fire and Mary J. Blige driving sales via a live concert series produced from the Venetian resort in Las Vegas that began in 2012 with the release of Lionel Richie's album "Tuskegee."

The types of talent HSN attracts will be pivotal for the company, especially as more consumers turn to the Internet to do much of their shopping.

All of HSN's programming is available as a live stream online, usage of its mobile app is growing, and its website includes an arcade with games that shoppers can spend time playing while they're watching the network.

HSN already has succeeded in producing multiple days of programming themed around film releases like "Eat Pray Love," "Snow White and the Huntsman," "Oz the Great and Powerful" and "The Guilt Trip," selling products with a loose connection to the movies. Studios releasing the films received a small percentage of the sales associated with the items curated by HSN, but for the most part, the lure has been that the movies received a marketing push in the 96 million homes where HSN is available.

QVC also has turned to producing polished-looking talkshows and series that increase the glitz factor, after realizing that programming blocks of big-haired, middle-aged women excitedly promoting pastel-colored sweaters covered in cats and flowers weren't considered all that entertaining.

"It doesn't matter how many times you say you're different, the perception doesn't change," Sheldon says. "But when you see relevant engaging content, that changes opinions."

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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