Soon Junior will be able to claim his 15 minutes of fame mere hours after wriggling into the world.
Thanks to an Internet service called babypressconference.com, set to launch in December, his screaming or smiling mug can be broadcast as a live video from the hospital to the computer screens of family and friends. Perhaps the ultimate birthing amenity, the TV-style video conference promises to let every family star in the happiest dramatic roles of their lives: the birth of a child.
Some hospitals that have already signed on for the service expect that the personal stage will be a powerful lure for prospective parents as they decide where to have their babies delivered. Well-wishers can also tap an electronic gift registry to buy from participating merchants, including Toys R Us, Sony Classical Music and Vermont Teddy Bears. Sales fund the service, which will be free to hospitals that meet certain birth volume requirements.
In fact, a portion of the e-commerce revenues earned from the parents' purchases will be go to the participating hospitals, with the rest going to vendors and babypressconference.com. A share of the purchases made by the broader audience will go to vendors and babypressconference.com but not to hospitals.
Already a handful of providers have signed on, including Holy Cross Hospital, Silver Spring, Md.; Providence Health System, Everett, Wash.; and Sentara Health System, Norfolk, Va.
By the end of next year, babypressconference.com, a venture conceived by and majority-owned by the Greater New York Hospital Association, expects to have 175 hospitals equipped and on board. This week the service will be unveiled to prospective health systems at a Denver meeting of the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development, affiliated with the American Hospital Association.
The appeal to parents is devilishly simple. At no charge to them, the hospital will make available a mini-television studio for a 30-minute video broadcast over the Internet shortly after the birth. As with online celebrity chats, members of the audience can type questions to be displayed on a screen in front of the parents. Passwords, rather than velvet ropes, limit the audience to a guest list the parents prepared before the big day. And Dad can avoid finger cramps from dialing everybody and their sister with the birth news.
The session also will be stored for one week, available to people who couldn't log on live.
Behind the scenes, the staff at babypressconference.com takes care of all the technical details, sending instructions and software to the chosen few on an e-mail list.
Babypressconference is the brainchild of Lee Perlman, executive vice president of the venture arm of the Greater New York Hospital Association. A baby's birth, Perlman said, "is arguably the most consistently happy moment that takes place in hospitals." Hospitals rightly want to play up the pleasurable-and profitable-service, he said, and the babypressconference.com idea can help them do that.
As Internet use surges, especially among the age group of new parents, the time seems ripe for a service that combines information and online buying with a special event.
"It's a business model that's a pretty popular one right now," said Charles Warren, an electronic commerce consultant with Scient, San Francisco. Services already exist for weddings, home buying and even funerals, he said. "These sites hit you at a vulnerable moment. I think that's pretty powerful."