The Player: Loughlin leads revamp of battered but solid 'TV Guide'

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Imagine for a moment you've just been named to run a magazine.

Its circulation dropped almost 40% in a decade. It's owned by a company under federal investigation that restated financial results twice since November. Its stock is off its 52-week high by almost 90%, and the company's business model depends heavily on patented technology that may not be patent-able after all.

Welcome to the world of John Loughlin, whom Gemstar-TV Guide tapped as president, TV Guide Publishing Group to right its listing flagship last September.

"The challenge," said Chip Block, his friend, longtime industry executive, and vice chairman, USAPubs, a subscription marketing firm, "is adapting a whole different publishing model from the original mass-magazine model."

Turning around the venerable TV Guide-which, despite significant erosion, still sells about 9 million copies a week-won't be easy.

But Mr. Loughlin has already remade the rest of the company's top management, via the December hiring of Publisher Scott Crystal, who formerly ran Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's business-information group, and this month's hiring of Michael Lafavore, founding editor of Rodale's Men's Health, as editor in chief.

And, given what Mr. Loughlin said is "north of $20 million" war chest for this year to revive the title, much more may be on the way. That reinvigoration, Mr. Loughlin said, encompassed reworking the sales team to revamping editorial to investing in more prime checkout positions and reducing its subscription agents for circulation. Despite industry talk of another rate-base reduction, he is comfortable with the 9 million rate base.

TV Guide's ad pages dropped 11.1% to 2,457.9 in 2002. In December, though, ad pages rose 25.7%-although Mr. Loughlin attributed some of this to comparisons with the depressed post-Sept. 11 period.

"TV Guide as a business really needed to be revamped from top to bottom," said Jeff Shell, Gemstar's CEO. Mr. Loughlin "really has the ability to put his arms around the entire problem," he said.

Mr. Loughlin's last stint was running Primedia's consumer magazines, which he left last summer. Prior to that-and felicitously enough for TV Guide-he ran Meredith Corp.'s TV division.

mission

Mr. Loughlin, by tapping Mr. Lafavore, looks to be directing TV Guide away from some possible editorial directions floated in the past, which included a transition to a celebrity focus a la Time Inc.'s People, or one focused more on gadgets and tech. "It's not a celebrity magazine," said Mr. Lafavore. "It's a magazine people use to decide what to watch."

What the future may bring will depend on how well TV Guide deploys its substantial funds earmarked for the title's revamp.

In any event, Mr. Loughlin, who oversaw more than 120 titles at Primedia, sounds relieved to reduce his oversight to one. "I'm finding a real, genuine pleasure in being able to focus one brand," he said, especially "one that's got the history this one has."

Fast Facts

Name: John Loughlin

Age: 45

Now: President, TV Guide Publishing Group

Challenge: To revive flagship title TV Guide

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