Comcast, TiVo, and… PayPal?

Attention: QVC Shoppers! Open up those home equity credit lines because shopping online is about to get faster and easier!

On Tuesday, Scott Dunlap, vice president of emerging opportunities with PayPal, announced a new partnership with Comcast and TiVo. What could a cable giant, a DVR maker, and an online payment processor possibly do together? Let you buy stuff directly from your television, that’s what!

This means that you’ll be able to make purchases or donations in response to interactive ads that you see on your TV. Press a couple buttons on your remote control, and you can complete the deal using your PayPal account. And you can even pause the programming while you take care of business, then resume without missing anything.

This process has been dubbed “t-commerce” (like “e-commerce” but with a “t” for “television). PayPal did a survey last fall and found that nearly half of the TV subscribers polled were interested in making on-screen purchases. And a large portion of them were interested in using PayPal to make the payments. Viewers could start to see implementation of this system as early as this fall.

Until now, TV commercials have been simply advertising, part of a marketing campaign. This ability to interact with the screen and engage PayPal in the process could be a game changer as it adds the sales function, and removing extra steps for the consumer to buy. It also could breathe new life into commercials. If the ads frequently offer products or services that you care about, and if those ads offer special discounts or bonuses that are only available during the commercial, I can see how this could encourage more consumers to pay more attention to the commercials. And as any student of operant conditioning can tell you, an infrequent and random payoff is the best way to reinforce a behavior that is very difficult to extinguish. (Just ask anyone playing a slot machine.) It would not take many attractive deals sprinkled among the wasteland of commercials to make viewers want to sift through all of them, just so they don’t miss something.

This could make television commercials interesting again.