Watch what you wear: one click and it's in your closet


Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 9, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Wish you could get your special guy that yummy black wool coat worn by Dr. Burke on the Nov. 23 episode of "Grey's Anatomy"?

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SeenOn.com promotes clothing and other items featured on TV shows. One expert says he's surprised the marketing tactic "didn't emerge a long time ago."

The Washington Post

You can. It's manufactured by Calvin Klein, and it's available for $239.99 in sizes S, M, L and XL.

How about those snazzy Diane von Furstenberg slacks that made Delinda Deline look so good during the Nov. 24 installment of "Las Vegas"? They're black wool gabardine, available in sizes 2, 4, 6 and 10 for $159.

In fact, a whole host of items — and not just clothing — seen on television's hottest shows can be purchased online. That great funky stool on "Ugly Betty." Those slip-on Chuck Taylors that Dave was sporting on "What About Brian."

Or let's say you took a liking to the sporty Maserati driven by Gabrielle Solis, one of the "Desperate Housewives." It's a 2005 Spyder, and with a few clicks of a mouse — and about $88,000 — you can have one just like it.

If television is becoming "one giant catalogue," as an expert recently put it, then the new Web site SeenOn.com is the door to a pop-culture shopping orgy, a portal for those who don't just want to watch their favorite characters on the 50-inch flat screen. It's for those who want to dress like them, smell like them, drive like them and be surrounded by their possessions, right down to the colors on the walls. (Bree Van De Kamp, that impeccable but still desperate housewife, uses Benjamin Moore's Durango Dust, Wickham Grey and Wythe Blue in the interior of her home. A sample pack of those paint colors, along with her exterior Phillipsburg Blue and some accessories, can be had for $25.)

"Not only am I not surprised that this kind of thing is emerging, I'm surprised it didn't emerge a long time ago in a much more extensive way," says the aforementioned expert, Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television. "It's a different category of product placement. It starts out as an ancillary novelty, but my guess is that at some point this will be a major way to move product."

Product placement — when vendors and manufacturers pay film studios and TV production companies to prominently feature items — has been around for decades, but that's not what's happening here. At least not yet. This works the other way around: TV designers choose which wardrobe and furnishings they will use, and then the manufacturers agree to make those items available to the public via cyberspace.

SeenOn, which launched in late November, is a division of the California-based Delivery Agent Inc., which since 2002 has brokered deals with television networks, movie studios and other media outlets to provide a link between thousands of products characters use on-screen and consumers eager to buy them.

Like the shopping features provided by online services such as AOL and Yahoo, SeenOn offers products from a wide variety of stores and other vendors. According to Delivery Agent founder and chief executive Mike Fitzsimmons, the company has 35 branded sites that it manages, including online stores for many television networks, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and film studios such as Lionsgate and Miramax. The new Web site, he says, simply gives shoppers "one centralized destination" that links to the 35 sites.

For decades, fans could buy "Cheers" T-shirts or "CBS Evening News" coffee mugs or "Miami Vice" baseball caps. But Fitzsimmons's idea takes that much, much further, allowing you to buy the clothes the stars are wearing and the furniture they're sitting on. To make that happen, Delivery Agent depends on stylists and costume and production designers who, while choosing wardrobe and accessories for a TV show or movie, feed manufacturer names and model numbers to Delivery Agent via a hand-held digital device. They also provide information about which episode and scenes the product will appear in.

Delivery Agent then uses its own research to estimate demand for individual items. Its merchandising team then purchases stock from the vendor or manufacturer at wholesale. (The research isn't always accurate, judging from how many items worn by Dr. McDreamy on "Grey's Anatomy" are only available in odd sizes or are sold out altogether — in the aftermath of the holiday shopping rush.)

Priced at retail, products go up on the Web almost immediately after a show airs; Delivery Agent processes the orders and arranges the shipping. Everybody involved — the production company, the studio, the broadcaster and Delivery Agent — gets a cut of the profit.

And, out in California, Michelle Jeffries, a 24-year-old program coordinator for Special Olympics, gets the same cute pair of jeans Izzie wore on "Grey's Anatomy."

"I didn't even know you could do this until the first time I went on the Web site," says Jeffries, who heard about it from a friend. "I didn't know you could find the furniture. They even have beauty products. It's cool. It's like in the magazines — 'to achieve this look,' and then it's all right there for you."

The products aren't necessarily unique to the Web site. Consumers could just head to the mall and buy, for example, "Ugly Betty's" holiday poinsettia sweater at Talbots. But part of the site's appeal is how it instantly identifies brands and manufacturers for the shopper.

In the era of TiVo and commercial-skipping, with product placement growing and the traditional 30-second ad losing its impact, there has been talk of the day when the entertainment and consumer worlds would become so integrated and interactive that couch potatoes could buy products on their TV screens with a few clicks of a remote. Fitzsimmons says he studied that model, felt it was still a ways away, and figured that "the Internet will suffice as a short-term mechanism."

Thompson agrees.

"The ability to sell things as they are featured on television shows in an easy, facile way ... there are so many good reasons to develop that for commerce purposes," he says. "These kinds of businesses now are simply the tip of the iceberg."

Which horrifies some people, like Gary Ruskin of Commercial Alert, a nonprofit organization whose mis

sion statement is to "keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere."

"It speaks to an emptiness that is in the hearts of millions of people, where what they own is more important than the content of their character," Ruskin says. "They define themselves not by what they've done, but by whether they've got Britney Spears's latest item."

Which is why, among its other classifications, Delivery Agent also categorizes some products simply by the celebrities seen using them. One of its biggest hits was the homemade crocheted poncho Martha Stewart wore when she was released from prison. The company contracted with a vendor to copy the style and then sold $1 million worth, according to Fitzsimmons. Another major seller: the Dwight Schrute bobblehead doll seen on "The Office."

"There's something unique about television," says Nell Minow, who reviews movies for Yahoo and radio stations across the country as the Movie Mom. (Her father was former FCC chairman Newton Minow, who once famously called TV "a vast wasteland.") "We connect to television in a way that is completely different than we do movies or music. I think it's because it's in our house, and we go into the houses of the people we see. There's an intimacy.

"And this takes it one step further, where you can replicate the same living room in your very own house. I think it's creepy."

You can even buy the house, so to speak. That Airstream trailer Dr. McDreamy lives in? It, too, is available after a few clicks. Sadly, when it arrives, there is no McDreamy inside.

So, no, Minow says, she won't be shopping for the this-or-that Gabrielle Solis had on during Sunday night's episode of "Desperate Housewives."

"If they were selling her figure, that would be fine with me," Minow says. "I'd click on that."

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