Guiding the way

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"Honey, have you seen the TV Guide?" is a question that has been shouted in American homes for 47 years, but now the refrain could be on the endangered list. If Gemstar-TV Guide International has its way, the brand will be seen beyond its infamous magazine format by virtually everyone, every day.

The magazine's circulation has declined 20.1% since 1995 to 10,844,269 for the six months ended June 30. But "We have a long way to go until we're small," says Dick Porter, exec VP and general manager of the media sales unit.

After all, following the July acquisition of TV Guide Inc. by Gemstar International and the combined company's aggressive move toward a multiplatform brand strategy, one will be seeing some form of a TV Guide at every media turn, even if fewer magazines are in circulation.


"In two years we have really formed a multiplatform company from the magazine to the cable channel to interactive program guides and the online business," says Joe Kiener, co-president and co-chief operating officer.

"The focal point is growth," he adds. "We want to continue focusing on our ability to grow overall consumer reach across all of our platforms and to provide advertisers with a group of platforms." The company's multiplatform reach now exceeds 70 million people.

"The need for television guidance is increasing," says Mr. Porter, because there are more channel choices than years ago. It's not about which method consumers see TV Guide, he adds, it's that they see TV Guide in some way. So, increasing the magazine's circulation is "not a real concern. We think about the brand."

It's the potential of the interactive program guides that get company executives really giddy.

The two interactive program products, TV Guide Interactive, an on-screen program guide for digital cable subscribers, and Guide Plus Gold, a technology built into some TV models, currently reach a total of 7 million homes and the yearend projection is for 10 million homes.

Mr. Porter says research has shown that the average U.S. household watches seven hours of TV a day and that homes with an interactive program guide access the service four times per hour.

Guide Plus Gold, TV Guide Interactive and the other initiatives all have advertising elements. With the interactive program guides there are even text ads consumers can click. Some advertisers include America Online and Nullsoft Inc.'s Winamp, a high fidelity music player.

"We will continue to look at the digital interactive TV space," says Mr. Kiener. "That technology will continue to emerge. The next frontier will be in T-commerce . . . that includes a two-way component to conclude a transaction." This transaction capability will allow consumers to click and buy merchandise from advertisers on TV Guide's site.


"We're really excited about this," says David Adelman, senior VP-convergence media director for Young & Rubicam's Digital Edge, New York, which is looking to place clients on TV Guide Online. "This is the story about interactive TV that isn't all hype."

Although TV Guide's circulation heyday may be over, some say TV Guide the brand is poised for explosive growth.

"I think it's a very intelligent strategy to take a very strong brand whose original platform is vulnerable and exploit the hell out of it," says Gene DeWitt, chairman of New York-based Optimedia International, which places client Bravo in TV Guide print and interactive products. "The interface between the viewer and the viewer's choices is going to be very powerful. Gemstar has a handle on how people select [programs] to view that most companies don't have."

Part of TV Guide's brand transformation is being developed through business partnerships with entertainment/information brands such as VH-1, Food Network, and Showtime Networks.

Next up for TV Guide: e-books. The company recently acquired two manufacturers of e-book readers, NuvoMedia and SoftBook Press.

"If you slice and dice the amount of consumer leisure time, TV is No. 1 and reading is No. 2.," says Mr. Kiener, who adds "it's safe to assume there will be an e-book version of TV Guide as early as next year." The e-book could give consumers more options to customize and print their TV Guide.

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