The Future Is Crap

MTV’s new “show” Cool Crap is, as Sports Illustrated would put it, another sign that the apocalypse is upon us. It’s also, not surprisingly, a potentially brilliant business idea and one of the first examples of what real convergence between television and e-commerce might look like.

The basic idea behind Cool Crap, which I glimpsed for the first time yesterday afternoon while running through the usual CNBC-MTV-CNNfn-AMC cycle, is simple: show popular videos during which text crawls at the bottom of the screen, offering for sale things in (or connected to) the videos. If you’re a fan of Orgy’s “Blue Monday” video, for instance, you can buy the lead singer’s zippered shirt, signed by the band, and the guitar player’s top. If you love Eminem, you can buy the straitjacket–predictably enough, spelled “straightjacket”–that he wears in the “My Name Is …” video. Or you can get that lovely Chanel skirt that Monica wears in her latest video. (And no, she’s not that Monica.)

To buy these things you have to go online, to MTV’s special Cool Crap site, where you can see the full array of goods for sale. As of yesterday, there were 61 different items. The best ones are taken directly from the videos. But you can also get one of only four extant Beavis and Butt-head arcade games, a baseball bat from Method Man, a puppet package from the genius show Sifl and Olly, and, if you’re really pathetic, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos’ bikini. (They might as well just sell underwear.)

If you go to the site, you’ll see the true magic of the idea, because the site is “Powered by eBay.” In other words, you can’t just buy the Eminem straitjacket. You have to bid for it, like you bid for everything else on eBay. And that, given the nature of auctions, almost certainly means that somebody’s going to end up spending a lot more money on the straitjacket than they thought they would.

eBay’s involvement drives home the “convergence” aspect of the project, because you really do need the Internet in order to auction off the goods rather than simply sell them. The Internet connection here is more than just a gimmick or a way to drive traffic to the MTV site. It’s an essential ingredient in the business. It’s taking advantage of new technology to do things that couldn’t have been done before. Which is, one assumes, exactly what you want to do with new technology.

The next step, of course, will be the integration of television and the Web, so that instead of having to get up from your TV to go to the computer to bid on the straitjacket, you’ll be able to click on the straitjacket and immediately be sent to the site where bids can be submitted. That’s not too far away. And eventually, we’ll presumably be able to do this not just with specialty goods, but with everything. If you like the car George Clooney is driving, you’ll click on it and be sent to the Audi TT Website, and if you like the suit he’s wearing, you’ll go to the Brioni Web site. It’ll be like the Home Shopping Network, only with “real” TV shows.

Cool Crap, of course, has the advantage that everything it’s selling–even the signed Van Halen poster–will be bought. Setting up links for every product on a given show, on the other hand, may turn out to be a cost-ineffective way of advertising. But I think it is safe to say that Cool Crap offers something like a glimpse of the future. Perhaps it’s a grim one. But think how excellent it would have been to be able to buy Vitavetametagin just as Lucy was pitching it.