Finally realizing what others learned months ago about the power of brands on the Web, News. Corp.'s new service has as its backbone TV Guide, the nation's largest weekly magazine with a paid circulation of 13 million.
The redesigned free service, located at http://www.tvguide.com, focuses on four content areas: TV, of course, along with music, movies and sports (the latter drawing heavily on another News Corp. brand, Fox Sports). It will also offer 132 versions of TV Guide's weekly listings, organized by market and cable company; free e-mail updates for users who register TV viewing preferences; a database of movie information; and a chat room built to accommodate 5,000 simultaneous users.
"Most of the traffic on iGuide came to branded environments, like Fox Sports and TV Guide," said James Murdoch, the company's 24-year-old VP-music and new media, and son of News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch.
A LONG TWO YEARS
TV Guide has wrestled over the past two years to position itself within News Corp.'s stable of interactive properties. Early con-cepts for the magazine's digital presence involved bundling discs with editions of the magazine and offering it as a standalone online property, possibly at a premium price.
But as News Corp. formed a joint venture with MCI Com-munications Corp., TV Guide's freedom as a digital brand became bound by corporate contracts and plans for News Corp. properties that shifted alongside the com-pany's fickle list of media deals.
TV Guide at one point slipped completely from view, falling behind the broad heading of "TV" on the home page of iGuide.
"We were all they had, and they hid us," said a former executive with iGuide, which News Corp had hoped would be a premier entertainment information destination on the Web.
While the iGuide name hasn't disappeared altogether-"there are some ideas being bandied around" about what to do with it, said Mr. Murdoch-starting today, those who point their browsers to iGuide (http://www.iguide.com) will be redirected to the TV Guide Entertainment Network.
Softbank Interactive Marketing will represent the site to advertisers and develop interactive marketing for it. News Corp. has allocated a marketing budget of less than $5 million to the site's relaunch.
Of the nine current advertisers on iGuide, so far only Ziff-Davis and Primestar are committed to sponsoring the redesigned site. The site will charge a $25 cost per thousand (or a minimum $6,200 monthly) through June, said Tom Biggs, senior VP of the TV Guide Entertainment Network.
Supporters of TV Guide-according to Mr. Biggs, there are at least one million users visiting the iGuide site monthly-are satisfied the company finally put the brand out front. Indeed, WebTV Networks and TV Guide Entertainment Network finalized a deal on Jan. 8 to give the site premium positioning on WebTV boxes.
But detractors say the launch is way overdue. TV Guide had capabilities to launch 120 or more listings editions online as early as February 1996, according to one former iGuide employee, but didn't put these offerings online because the company wanted to develop a revenue model from them.
GIST A COMPETITOR
Since then, competitor Gist Communications launched its service (http://www.gist.com) in September with free TV listings organized by time zone and top city markets. The company also began offering multimedia spots online for marketers who want to let users sample TV shows. It will expand its listings