On Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m., viewers tuned in to watch a trio of bubbly hosts show off a bevy of clothes and beauty products. A model sashayed in a pink fit-and-flare dress that was declared on-trend for spring; a YouTube star offered advice on the perfect shade of red lipstick; and the hosts gushed over a $98 mirrored handbag that had been carried on the red carpet by actress Vanessa Hudgens.
You'd be forgiven for thinking this simply sounds like an average night on QVC or HSN. But, in fact, this show was streaming on Amazon.com.
The e-commerce and video streaming giant debuted Tuesday its first-ever live show, a program called "Style Code Live" that will air each weeknight. Judging from its first episode, the show will be something of a mash-up between QVC and "E! News."
The show appears to be a gamble by Amazon that it can strengthen its position as an apparel retailer by finding new, more interactive ways to present its merchandise. And it also serves as a way to test the waters with live programming, a category that video-streaming upstarts are eyeing as potentially more lucrative than recorded offerings. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)
In the "Style Code Live" debut, hosts Frankie Grande, Rachel Smith and Lyndsey Rodrigues spent most of the 30-minute program showing off clothes available for sale on Amazon. The salesmanship wasn't as overt as it is on traditional home-shopping channels — there were no urgent prompts, for example, to buy something quickly before it sold out. But they are still clearly trying to get you to open your wallet, such as when a reversible shirt was touted by Grande as "not just a shirt, it’s an entire collection!"
They also mix in a bit of fashion news, which on Tuesday night meant a brief discussion of Chanel announcing that avant garde fashionista Willow Smith would be its next brand ambassador. Throughout the program, a feature Amazon calls the shopping carousel sits beneath the video and updates in real-time to showcase the products being discussed on-screen.
In some ways, "Style Code Live" makes plenty of sense. Amazon is eager to do a bigger business in the fashion category and has reportedly been developing several private fashion labels to help it make some gains there.
"Style Code" live could potentially serve its fashion ambitions in two ways: Most obviously, it could directly stimulate sales of the products featured on the show. But, perhaps more importantly, it could create something of a favorable brand halo. If "Style Code" viewers don't buy anything during the show, but come away from it with the idea that Amazon has a trendy assortment of handbags and clothes, that could be potentially more powerful. Right now, some of Amazon's hurdle in fashion is simply reputation: Shoppers often don't think of it as a place that offers much style inspiration and curation.
Looking beyond the retailing incentives, it's logical to wonder whether the streaming video concept might migrate to a splashier category that might appeal to a mass audience instead of a niche group of fashionistas. After watching the program, it seems the answer may be that "Style Code Live" seems relatively easy to produce: The set looks small and uncomplicated, and the program's format requires little more than the hosts and a couple of models.
In other words, it could be a relatively low-risk way to experiment with the unique scheduling and production demands of a live show, a type of programming that could be increasingly important in the broader streaming business. Facebook, for example, is in talks with the NFL and other potential partners to bring live-streamed content to its site. A Facebook executive said in a recent interview with trade publication Variety that engagement on its site is three times higher for live video than for recorded.
And yet there are reasons to be skeptical that "Style Code Live" won't exactly become appointment viewing. For starters, its product mix — which on Tuesday included an off-the-shoulder dress and chunky platform heels — appeared squarely aimed at millennials, a demographic that QVC has had some trouble turning into loyal customers. If millennials don't watch home-shopping programming already, will they really want to now just because it's coming from Amazon?
And home-shopping enthusiasts might not find the Amazon show and shopping technology particularly groundbreaking. In fact, QVC's mobile app long has allowed shoppers to stream all of its live programming and easily buy what's onscreen. So, in that way, Amazon is not necessarily making home-shopping any easier or more convenient, it's just injecting its own voice and branding.
And finally, it's no secret that the competition for entertainment viewership is as fierce as ever. One television industry executive famously said last year that there is "too much television," citing the unprecedented volume of streaming, cable and broadcast content angling for our attention. That's an environment that makes it hard for any new program to get traction. And in a world with all that choice, it remains to be seen whether Amazon has created something that will cut through the noise.