ABC will test-market 'Nightcap,' a shopping program to follow 'Nightline'

TELEVISION

September 24, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

Nothing irritates Phil Beuth, president of ABC's early-morning and late-night programming, more than people who say the post-"Nightline" experiment he is about to launch is a clone of the Home Shopping Network.

Mr. Beuth says "Nightcap," which will allow viewers to obtain discount prices on merchandise by calling an 800-number, will be just the opposite since its aim will be to get shoppers back into retail stores, rather than luring them away.

On Oct. 19, ABC will begin a four-to-six-week market test of "Nightcap," an hour-long entertainment and variety show. Robin Leach will be the host, and a co-host is to be announced. It will be carried by an as yet undetermined number of affiliates, most of them in small-to-medium markets. (Baltimore's ABC affiliate, WJZ-Channel 13 is not planning to carry the show, according to a station spokesman.)

Mr. Beuth said if "Nightcap" tests well in selected markets, where affiliates initially will be given all commercial spot time to sell to local advertisers, it may be rolled out nationwide as a follow-up to "Nightline," a time slot the network has struggled unsuccessfully to fill for several years.

Between entertainment segments and interviews, a wide variety merchandise will be offered on "Nightcap," with coupons providing substantial discounts to viewers who call in, order them, then take them to participating retailers. Mr. Beuth said some direct marketing sales also will be tested, but that the basic concept is to be "retail-friendly."

"Everyone says this is Home Shopping Network, and it's not," Mr. Beuth said. "I'm trying to re-establish the link between television advertising and retail sales. That's not to say we won't have direct-to-home items, but every item we have will have some kind of gimmick designed to get the customer back to the store.

"As a kid, I used to watch the 'Texaco Star Theater,' and the whole idea of the show was to get the people to the pump," he said. "Well, I'm trying here to get more people to the pump."

Spokesmen at Home Shopping Network and QVC Shopping Channel declined comment on the new ABC show.

Increasingly, customers are shunning retail stores in favor of shopping from home. The trend has spawned a $5 billion-a-year direct-marketing industry in which Home Shopping Network and its cable rival, QVC Shopping Channel, claim a combined total of $2 billion. A spokeswoman for the Census Bureau, which compiles the monthly retail sales report, said until last year, the agency did not include direct marketing in its analysis, an exclusion that may have further depressed the nation's already recession-bound sales profile.

Mr. Beuth said the direct-marketing "bypass" of local merchants is taking business from local merchants, thus hurting the national advertisers upon whom the networks depend.

ABC has market-tested a number of prospective shows for the difficult time period after "Nightline." Affiliates are up against the "Tonight Show" and David Letterman, as well as such tough syndicated contenders as Arsenio Hall and Whoopie Goldberg. They need all the ratings clout they can get to compete.

The most recent effort to throw such a punch was the news magazine "Day's End." It was tested for 13 weeks in the spring of 1989 before it faded from sight. Mr. Beuth said he hopes "Nightcap" may prove to have the right ingredients.

"We're going to test several different ideas, some of which have never been done on television before," said Mr. Beuth.

"We'll have a number of different indices to determine what works and what doesn't -- whether or not, in the middle of the night, we can develop a new revenue stream for us and our stations."

Affiliates will not see a pilot of the new show for two weeks, but Mr. Beuth said prospective sponsors, eager to peddle their goods via an 800-number, are clamoring to come aboard.

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