The little company that promised shopping via TV in 1985

Shopping from the comfort of one's living room seemed viable decades ago with an innovation by Cableshare in London, Ont.

Cableshare of London, Ont., foresaw the end of trips to the mall

Shopping by television

37 years ago
Duration 2:58
Together, the TV and telephone promised to make malls obsolete if a London, Ont. company's innovation was a success.

Shopping from the comfort of one's living room was already rolling out in the United States in 1985..

In London, Ont., a company called Cableshare had been "cranking out" computer and communications equipment for 12 years.

And according to reporter Antonia Zerbisias for the CBC business program Venture on Oct. 13, 1985, Cableshare had pulled off "what giant American corporations couldn't."

She said it had invented "a simple system for tele-shopping: catalog sales through cable TV."

Screen and phone in combination

Cableshare's TV shopping system involved using a touch-tone telephone to make selections shown on the TV -- but two neighbours couldn't use their phones on the system at once. (Venture/CBC Archives)

As the camera showed screens demonstrating a "home shopping system" called "Touch 'N Shop," Zerbisias highlighted Cableshare's advantage.

"Other systems use expensive hardware like home computers," said Zerbisias. "But not Cableshare's: all it needs is a touch-tone phone and a TV."

Noting that she could "spend up a storm" as she navigated the system, Zerbisias said it worked "like a shopping mall, only cheaper."

And that's what had attracted the attention of the U.S. department store chain J.C. Penney, a staple of malls south of the border.

'The marketplace won't be a mall'

"In the long run, the marketplace will be in your living room," said Terry Pocock, president of Cableshare. (Venture/CBC Archives)

Terry Pocock, president of Cableshare, said J.C. Penney knew that "in the long run," shoppers would buy goods using a screen at home.

"The marketplace won't be a mall. The marketplace won't be a catalogue," he said.

Zerbisias said once a deal was inked with Cableshare, J.C. Penney's plan was to build "video malls" with other retailers as electronic tenants.

Even though Cableshare's system was "the best so far" according to experts, some kinks remained.

"One problem: it works like a party line," said Zerbisias. "If your neighbour's using it, you'll have to wait."

Whether consumers would give up shopping trips for "video catalogs" was another question. And even if the United States could have them by the end of 1986, the picture was different in Canada.

"We didn't even try and sell anybody in Canada on home shopping," said Pocock. "The regulatory problems meant we had an uphill battle all the way." 

Reporter Antonia Zerbisias said the federal broadcast regulator was about to start hearings on specialty cable channels that could change Cableshare's prospects in Canada. (Venture/CBC Archives)

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