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Christie's lets home bidders in on live action

It's no absentee-bidding tool. Via video, Christie's Live lets registrants bid on items in live auctions--or just sit in. Photos: 'Star Trek' props for Christie's auction

Christie's on Wednesday launched a real-time bidding feature on its Web site.

The tool, Christie's Live, gives users the chance to remotely watch the company's live auctions, bidding on items online in real time.

"Christie's Live will allow us to bring to an unlimited online audience the finest property, and those bidders will be able to participate, in real time, in the excitement of the live salesroom," Edward Dolman, chief executive of Christie's, said in a statement.

Star Trek auction

The free downloadable software that enables remote auction participation is currently available for Microsoft Windows users only. Remote bidders must register separately for each sale they wish to view two days prior to the auction. As with the usual auction process, online bidders are issued a unique paddle number for that sale. Nonbidders are also welcome to download the software and "sit in" on an auction.

"You must register in order to view. But there is nothing compelling them to bid. We welcome people to register for a sale and then (just) view," Andrew Foster, the auctioneer's international director of operations and U.S. chief operating officer, told CNET

In May, Christie's announced that it would hold a this October. The live online-bidding option may appeal to fans otherwise uncomfortable with the auction room.

But the new feature is not meant for just the paddle-shy. Christie's currently operates in more than 30 countries and globally has 16 salesrooms. The high-end auction house hopes to make it easier for its international clientele to bid at sales in all parts of the world.

"It's just the impact of globalization. People are bidding more often from more locations to more locations. This has led to more requests for phone bidding and absentee bidding. We needed to expand with another channel," Foster said.

For the first six months, the online bidding will be restricted to auctions at the company's New York and London salesrooms. Christie's will then expand the feature to include other salesroom locations.

In 1999, Christie's looked into the idea of an alternative, online revenue generator, Foster said. The idea was abandoned because Christie's felt that a business model based on the sale of objects lacking a warranty or professional appraisal did not fit in with a company that prides itself on its appraisal expertise, he noted. Rival auction house Sotheby's, which did pursue alternative means of auctioning at the time, had trouble entering the online market. Sotheby's still participates in four eBay auctions a year, however.

Foster emphasized that, unlike the 1999 online endeavor, Christie's Live is not a tool for conducting alternative auctions but rather a service intended for remote bidding on the company's existing 600-plus annual live auctions.