TV Guide Channel to Ditch the Scroll

Revamp Includes Original Programming for TV Fans

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Say goodbye to the scrolling "guide" on TV Guide Channel. The cable channel, which made its name guiding viewers to shows on other networks, wants to start pointing toward shows of its own.

The TV Guide Channel wants to start pointing toward shows of its own.
The TV Guide Channel wants to start pointing toward shows of its own.
The network, sold to indie studio Lionsgate along with TVGuide.com for $255 million in January, is planning a re-make that will include ditching the familiar scroll, adding original programming and possibly changing the name altogether.

Lionsgate's plans for the channel are still in a nascent stage, and will involve some touchy and possibly contentious discussions with cable operators. But the movie studio is eager to transform its new acquisition from a utility for basic cable into a venue for entertainment programming, and to expand its ad base from endemic "tune-in" advertising to major mass marketers.

President Ryan O'Hara said the network is considering different branding options based on a programming lineup cobbled together from shows bought from Lionsgate or other studios, or developed on their own. "We will be entertainment driven at our core," he said. "That is what the network has been about and what the brand has been about."

On his business card, Mr. O'Hara lists AMC's "Sunday Morning Shootout" as his favorite show. Now, AMC's rebranding could serve as something of a model, except while AMC was cast as a network for movie fans, TV Guide Channel plans to remain a network for fans of, well, TV.

Lionsgate bought the network and website soon after former owner Macrovision sold off the eponymous magazine for $1 plus assumption of debt.

Like the magazine, which once provided local listings through zoned editions, the cable network's "guide" function has become obsolete for the majority of cable and satellite TV subscribers due to digital channel guides.

Ditching the scroll seems like a no-brainer, except when you consider that about 20 million households in TV Guide's footprint subscribe to basic cable, and for those homes the "scroll" is the only on-screen guide to what's on. Cable operators used to leave paper channel guides at homes, but some don't do that anymore.

To continue to serve those homes, Mr. O'Hara said the network is talking to cable operators about just sending the guide to analog homes and going full-screen in digital homes, or launching a separate network on a digital tier.

Generally, when a cable network substantially changes its programming and brand, existing carriage deals are voided and then have to be renegotiated, one reason these changes could take time. Some cable operators may push back by arguing that they simply don't need another general-entertainment network. Cable execs contacted by Ad Age said they would have to see the extent of the change to determine if they would try to renegotiate. "We have the expectation from people that when we sign deals with them that they hold up their end of the bargain," said one. "They have carved out a niche and we pay for that niche."

TV Guide Network gets a little under 4 cents per subscriber from cable operators, and carriage fees account for just 20% of revenue, which means it is less dependent than many of the largest entertainment networks where the mix is closer to 50-50. SNL Kagan estimates TV Guide Channel booked $108 million in ad revenue and $22.5 million in subscription revenue in 2008.

TV Guide is also a brand that means something to consumers, while a new name and new programming would have to fight it out in a very competitive and crowded marketplace.

One option to preserve that connection would be to keep the "TV Guide" brand for entertainment news segments, while changing the overall name of the channel. Mr. O'Hara is confident the network can hang on to its endemic "tune-in" advertising by appealing to TV fans with celebrity coverage, and by being one of few cable networks willing (in fact, eager) to accept advertising from its competitors.

Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media, likes the move and said that if they can create appointment viewing, (as AMC did with Mad Men, which was produced by Lionsgate) it will establish the network in the minds of ad buyers. That said, pulling it off will be tough with all the other general-entertainment networks grappling for the same audience.

"The landscape is cluttered, there's a fixed amount of viewing time -- and it's not just TV now but other screens," he said. "Probably this would have been easier five years ago than it is now. But better late than never."

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