How Ashley Faull set up his own shopping channel

Shopping channels made for dull viewing before Ashley Faull came along with his exciting new format.


Ashley Faull shook up shopping-channel TV

Ashley Faull spent the 1990s working his way up the ladder of a rapidly evolving broadcast industry. By 1999 he was executive director of broadcasting at digital TV company ONdigital.

Shareholder objections thwarted his plans to make the basic channels in the new digital service free, with the aim of building a base for their premium sports and film packages. (Ironically, the BBC would use his idea to create Freeview after ONdigital's demise in 2002.) So he left, along with fellow director John Egan, to look for opportunities in the burgeoning field of interactive television, which he believed would profit from the spread of the internet across Britain.

Faull was particularly taken with home shopping channel QVC, which had been around in Britain since 1993. However, while he admired its success, he also felt it was "dull" and aimed at a very narrow demographic group (women aged between 30 and 50). That left plenty of room for a potential competitor. In particular, Faull was convinced that, if he could develop a similar channel that could also entertain consumers, it would appeal to a much broader group of viewers.

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Faull and Egan set up Sit-Up Limited in 1999. They raised an initial £5m from individuals, venture capitalists and pension funds, through stockbroker KBC Peel Hunt. They used this to launch their first channel Bid Up TV on BSkyB's satellite service in late 2000. Rather than QVC's straightforward sales pitches, Bid Up used auctions. Prices began at £1, then rose as more people began bidding and buying, and stock started to run out.

The format was a huge hit, and grew rapidly. Other providers, including Telewest and NTL, snapped it up. Telewest also made a major investment in the company in March 2001, buying 38% of Sit-Up for nearly £15m. As a result, their programmes were reaching an estimated eight million households barely a year after launch, and in 2003 they were on Freeview.

Eager to take advantage of their success, the duo continued to experiment. In 2004, they launched Price Drop TV. Price Drop was the first TV channel to employ reverse auctions, where prices fell from their starting point, until all the stock had been sold. This quickly became the dominant format on the three shopping channels owned by Sit-Up. Having "built a very successful business", they decided to sell the remainder to Telewest in 2006 for £194m, which Faull regarded as a "good price". By then the company was employing around 1,200 staff, and had a turnover of £240m.

Faull, now 47, used some of the proceeds from the sale to become an angel investor, and continues to found new businesses. Since the financial crisis he has been particularly interested in jewellery, due, he says, to its counter-cyclical nature (it's a business that can do well in hard times). In 2009, he co-founded, which buys gold via mail. To distinguish it from rival offerings, he employed experts who could offer people prices before they posted their gold. Faull's latest venture is, a price comparison website that lets consumers shop around to find the best deal in what he calls an "opaque" market.

onsumers shop around to find the best deal in what he calls an "opaque" market.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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