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Amazon eyes a move into home shopping TV with possible Evine acquisition

Amazon has now passed 100 million subscribers for its Prime loyalty shopping program, underscoring its growth as an e-commerce, cloud services and streaming media behemoth. But it’s also looking beyond the internet, at more traditional ways to reach consumers.

An industry source claims that Amazon is interested in making a buy in TV home shopping. Specifically, we’re told there have been acquisition discussions between Amazon and Evine Live, which operates a pay-TV home shopping channel of the same name. Another source also heard Amazon was one of several companies potentially interested in buying Evine.

The stage of these alleged discussions is not clear, nor is the price that Amazon would potentially pay. Evine is traded on Nasdaq, and its current market cap is $53 million, at the lower end of its one-year range.

The TV channel was previously the subject of a more public acquisition offer: a group headed by Segel Vision offered to buy it for an enterprise value of $175 million last year, but it eventually walked away after Evine rebuffed the offer multiple times. When TechCrunch reached out to Segel, co-founders Jim Morris and Marvin Segel wrote, “we do not know of any other interest in EVINE,” noting the company’s lackluster financial performance. “This is not the stock movement of a company being looked at.”

Spokespeople for Amazon and Evine declined to comment on rumors and speculation. Separately, we have received no response to messages sent to the CEO of Evine, Bob Rosenblatt, and COO/CFO Tim Peterman.

Evine is a distant third in the world of home shopping channels after QVC and the Home Shopping Network. Yet it still has broad potential reach, with its channel available in 87 million homes across the U.S., in addition to a website and apps. Its business is based on selling a range of merchandise, sometimes in partnerships with celebrities. The company last quarter reported revenues of $193 million with net income of $6.4 million. The latter may sound like a modestly small figure, but it was the first time Evine had posted a net income since 2007, with a rocky stock price to match. (Yet Evine insiders have remained bullish, making dozens of share purchases in the past 12 months, with limited selling.)

Evine has grown up amid some big shifts in the two worlds in which it operates, commerce and media. Two notable trends are that many consumers have switched off their TVs and moved away from shopping in physical stores, turning their attention online (and to their mobile screens) to be entertained and to buy things.

Amazon is both a big benefactor and pace-setter of that trend: the company has become a formidable presence in all things e-commerce and has, in more recent years, been stepping up its game in content, leveraging its cloud services infrastructure to stream third-party media in areas like video and music, as well as its own original programming, bringing a core audience to it all via its Prime subscription service.

There was once a time (before the internet grabbed hold) when home shopping TV helped define the idea of “shopping from your sofa.” But the $2.1 billion acquisition last year of HSN by QVC, creating North America’s third largest e-commerce retailer, was seen by some as a way for the combined companies to “battle Amazon.” The founder of Evine and its former CEO Mark Bozek (who was the basis of the Bradley Cooper character in the film Joy) also clearly identified the Amazon challenge/threat not just for home shopping but retail overall. (Bozek left Evine in 2016 and is now working on a new startup called Live Rocket.)

Yet Amazon’s might is not the full story. Today, e-commerce still accounts for only around nine percent of all retail sales in the U.S., according to figures from the Census Bureau. It’s on the rise, but that proportion speaks to a strong opportunity for online companies that want to capture customers who are not already regular Amazon shoppers and might be more likely to watch broadcast rather than on-demand TV. (Amazon’s Whole Foods buy, you could argue, also helped it target a more traditional channel, with a big move into physical stores.)

Evine is not the leading player in its space, but it has some key pieces in place — such as deals to broadcast into a multitude of local pay-TV markets, and an audience of TV viewers who are already watching and buying from Evine and channels like it — for a larger player to come in and use that infrastructure to build inroads to audiences that might not otherwise be reaching. It could also give those who sell on Evine a potentially much bigger audience to access through its digital channels.

QVC-style programming is an area that Amazon has tried to break into previously using its existing digital platforms. Back in 2016, Amazon launched “Style Code Live,” where users could watch a show with fashion and beauty tips and instantly buy the products. That effort was shelved in 2017 with no explanation for the cancellation, but it shows that the company does have an interest in the area.

Coincidentally, several months ago, reports surfaced that Amazon was looking at acquisitions of smaller, niche-interest television stations to complement its advances in streamed video surfaces.

Another interesting side note: Earlier this year Amazon took a $600 million investment into a company called StarTek, a call center operator and engagement outsourcing specialist that provides services in the cable TV, telecom and retail industries. The investment was little reported at the time, and when we asked about it, StarTek would only say that the deal was related to “commercial services” provided to Amazon.

Evine has been through several iterations: It was founded back in 1990 as Value Vision, went public in 1991 and at one time counted NBC as an investor, which had a significant enough stake to rebrand the company as ShopNBC. NBC eventually sold its stake and the company rebranded as ShopHQ, and then Evine in 2015 as part of Bozek’s attempted turnaround of the company.

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This makes it significantly harder for potential buyers or addicts to connect with dealers through Facebook. However, some dealers have taken to putting drug titles into their Facebook profile names, allowing accounts like “Fentanyl Kingpin Kilo” to continue showing up in search results. It’s not exactly clear when the search changes occurred. On some search result pages for queries like “Buy Xanax”, Facebook is now showing a “Can we help?” box that says “If you or someone you know struggles with opioid misuse, we would like to help you find ways to get free and confidential treatment referrals, as well as information about substance use, prevention and recovery.” A “Get support” button opens the site of The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the US department of health and human services that provides addiction resources. Facebook had promised back in June that this feature was coming. Facebook search results for many drug names now only surface people and video news reports, and no longer show posts, Pages, or Groups which often offered access to dealers When asked, Facebook confirmed that it’s recently made it harder to find content that facilitates the sale of opioids on the social network. Facebook tells me it’s constantly updating its approach to thwart bad actors who look for new ways to bypass its safeguards. The company confirms it’s now removing content violating its drug policies, it’s blocked hundreds of terms associated with drug sales from showing results other than links to news about drug abuse awareness. It’s also removed thousands of terms from being suggested as searches in its typeahead. Prior to recent changes, buyers could easily search for drugs and find posts from dealers with phone numbers to contact Regarding the “Can we help?” box, Facebook tells me this resource will be available on Instagram in the coming weeks, and it provided this statement: “We recently launched the “Get Help Feature” in our Facebook search function that directs people looking for help or attempting to purchase illegal substances to the SAMHSA national helpline. When people search for help with opioid misuse or attempt to buy opioids, they will be prompted with content at the top of the search results page that will ask them if they would like help finding free and confidential treatment referrals. This will then direct them to the SAMHSA National Helpline. We’ve partnered with the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration to identify these search terms and will continue to review and update to ensure we are showing this information at the most relevant times.” Facebook’s new drug abuse resource feature The new actions follow Facebook shutting down some hashtags like “#Fentanyl” on Instagram back in April that could let buyers connect with dealers. That only came after activists like Glassbreakers’ Eileen Carey aggressively criticized the company demanding change. In some cases, when users would report Facebook Groups or Pages’ posts as violating its policy prohibiting the sale of regulated goods like drugs, the posts would be removed but Facebook would leave up the Pages. This mirrors some of the problems it’s had with Infowars around determining the threshold of posts inciting violence or harassing other users necessary to trigger a Page or profile suspension or deletion. Facebook in some cases deleted posts selling drugs but not the Pages or Groups carrying them Before all these changes, users could find tons of vendors illegally selling opioids through posts, photos, and Pages on Facebook and Instagram. Facebook also introduced a new ads policy last week requiring addiction treatment centers that want to market to potential patients be certified first to ensure they’re not actually dealers preying on addicts. Much of the recent criticism facing Facebook has focused on it failing to prevent election interference, privacy scandals, and the spread of fake news, plus how hours of browsing its feeds can impact well-being. But its negligence regarding illegal opioid sales has likely contributed to some of the 72,000 drug overdose deaths in America last year. It serves as another example of how Facebook’s fixation on the positive benefits of social networking blinded it to the harsh realities of how its service can be misused. Last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that learning of the depths of the opioid crisis was the “biggest surprise” from his listening tour visiting states across the U.S, and that it was “really saddening to see.” The fact that he called this a “surprise” when some of the drugs causing the crisis were changing hands via his website is something Facebook hasn’t fully atoned for, nor done enough to stop. The new changes should be the start of a long road to recovery for Facebook itself.

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