I am a self-professed "Grey's Anatomy" junkie and every week I look forward to that Thursday night fix when I'll find out what will unfold next in the show's thrilling plot. I'm certainly not alone when it comes to having a primetime obsession, but this week, after reading an intriguing article in the New York Times Style section, I found out about a new breed of obsession: fans who watch shows to get the latest fashion and accessory looks from their favorite TV characters.
We're talking about consumers who want to own the same pair of jeans that Meredith wears on "Grey's Anatomy" or a dress that was seen on Gabrielle's character on "Desperate Housewives." The Times dubs this new phenomenon "shopping-enabled entertainment," a rapidly-growing marketplace now aided by several new websites selling the most popular and fashionable of the as-seen-on-TV products to consumers.
Shopping enabled entertainment gives a whole new meaning to product placement where viewers no longer have to be persuaded by advertisers to buy their products, but instead their brands are being actively sought-out by a celebrity-obsessed culture.
I first came across such fans last summer when reading message board posts on a design magazine's website. One fan had just seen the movie "The Break Up" with Jennifer Anniston and Vince Vaughn and was dying to locate the living room furniture used to decorate the couple's condo. The message board soon revealed hundreds of other fans who had admired the set as well and were seeking advice on which stores carried the exact couch, the end table and even the paint color on the walls.
Now, websites such as SeenON.com or StarStyle.com cater exclusively to these consumer demands and fans no longer have to fret over where to find their favorite TV items; a visit to the sites reveals just how extensive this market has become. As reported in the Times article, these websites don't just sell the clothes and accessories worn by characters on more than 100 televisions shows and movies, they also allow visitors to take virtual tours of TV and movie sets to purchase the tiniest details such as the Tupperware set used by Bree on an episode of "Desperate Housewives."
Back in November, a colleague blogged about this topic when the website SeenON was getting ready to launch. This entry is not only fueled by my own interest in the newest craze of shopping enabled entertainment, but is also intended as a follow-up to her query about what will become of the site. In her Nov. 13 blog entry, Leslie Taylor raised the question of whether viewers would want to shop TV: "Is SeenON a great way to connect TV viewers with the products they admire? Or does it herald the end of entertainment for entertainment's sake and hasten the time when a TV drama or comedy becomes nothing more than an hour-long product showcase?" she wrote.
Web executives estimate that this new market could potentially be worth $100 billion. I think it's safe to say then that we are entering a different era, where TV is transitioning from its entertaining roots to a marketplace for shoppers. Instead of advertisers worst fears being realized with the advent of the DVR, their biggest dreams are coming true. What a fascinating reversal. Is it possible that as fast forwarding through commercials becomes commonplace, people are actually hungrier for advertising and things to buy off of the TV? Or could it be that as our culture becomes more and more focused on celebrities, that this is just the next step in the younger generations' quest to be center-stage as well?
All I know is that when I sit down to watch Grey's Anatomy next time, I'll be wondering whether Meredith's near-death experience will cure her of her suicidal thoughts, instead of the pajamas she was wearing when she snuggled up with McDreamy.