BY DAVID SPEAKMAN
If eBay Inc. and Sony Corp. executives get their way, daytime television viewers nationwide will be tuning in to the new “eBay-TV” program this fall.
After more than two years in development limbo, San Jose’s eBay and Los Angeles-based Sony Pictures Television syndication studio are teaming to deliver a television show built around the online auction giant.
According to an eBay spokesperson, Sony’s sales team will try to sign up television-station groups in the annual convention of National Television Programming Executives (NATPE), which will be held Jan. 20-23 in New Orleans.
“We think we have great stories at eBay from our community,” says eBay’s Chris Donlay, who views the 5-day-a-week television series as a way to introduce the auction giant to a new audience.
Donlay says eBay and Sony are continuing to tinker with the show’s concept, which would run for either 30 or 60 minutes Monday through Friday in TV syndication.
The program is being touted as a topical magazine-type show — a combination of “Entertainment Tonight” and “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” with a little “Antiques Roadshow” plus celebrity guests with pet charity auctions thrown in for good measure.
Hosting duties will fall on Molly Pesce, best known for her appearances on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” on cable television.
But whether or not “eBay-TV” actually goes into production is dependent upon whether enough television stations in big markets — those with a population of more than 1 million — sign up to carry the show.
Rick Ellis, a TV critic with Birmingham, Ala.-based AllYourTV.com who plans to attend the NATPE convention, says the show could be a tough sell.
“This is one of those things that is a lot more interesting inside Silicon Valley than outside,” he says. “It’s hard to see why the average viewer would be compelled to watch the show.”
But eBay is sure the show will find an audience.
Ellis says the show’s distributor may not have the leverage to get enough big market stations to commit to an unproved format.
“I don’t see anything there that is compatible,” he says.
But the show’s producers are hoping they have an ace up their sleeve.
As part of the package for stations that sign up for the TV show, producers are planning personalized co-branded eBay Web pages and auction events.
For instance, a local station could auction tickets to station events or dinners with TV personalities.
To promote the local link, the show plans to include a 60-second window so local stations can advertise their co-branded auction Web pages — a rare practice in the world of syndicated programming.
Reports from television and auction industry media also say eBay will cough up $6 to local TV stations for each new user who subscribes to its service through the local TV station’s Web page.
Rumors of an eBay-themed television program first surfaced two years ago.
Originally tied to the ABC network, the show was to be developed by Los Angeles-based LMNO Productions — best known for the Fox network’s “Celebrity Boot Camp” reality series.
But in 2001, Sony bought LMNO’s interest in “eBay-TV” for an undisclosed amount and has been working exclusively with the online auction giant for more than a year.
Representatives from Sony did not return telephone calls for this story.
And that two-year process may take flight or die in New Orleans later this month.
Still, eBay is set to win either way.
“eBay has nothing to lose from it — even if the show fails,” AllYourTV.com’s Ellis says. “It won’t hurt the company; no one will blame eBay.”