TV Guide Channel sees sales jump

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TV Guide Channel, the 54 million subscriber listing and programming cable TV network, has seen some substantial gains in advertiser sales, thanks to a new programming format.

Advertising sales soared 44% in the first quarter. Now the network pulls in around $100 million, on an annualized basis -- a 66% gain since 1998. TV Guide Channel has lured new mainstream advertisers in the automotive, financial, Internet and pharmaceuticals categories.

The effort wasn't an easy one. In February 1999, TV Guide Channel merged with the owner of the Prevue Channel, a network advertisers hadn't viewed as a crucial cable buy for a long time.


Prevue's programming -- mostly promotions for upcoming TV programs -- would run in the top half of the screen, while TV program listings scrolled below. TV Guide Channel executives said the video wasn't compelling.

Straight-forward advertising, mostly from direct response advertisers, also was run.

Then in October, Gemstar International Group, an on-screen program listings rival of TV Guide Channel, acquired TV Guide for $9.5 billion. Under the new owner, the channel in November launched a new programming strategy consisting of 10 three-to-five-minute programs per hour.

Each focuses on a different segment of the entertainment business -- music, sports and TV. In addition, a new on-air design showed off a cleaner look for listings, which scroll through local broadcast and cable channels and their programs.


Despite advertising gains, some advertisers aren't convinced a commercial airing on half a screen has much retention among viewers.

Jerry Solomon, president of national broadcast for SFM Media, New York, noted at last week's National Cable Television Association in New Orleans that cable networks with split-screen programming, such as business cable network CNBC, have problems. "You don't see that commercial because you are looking at the ticker," he said.

To prove that TV Guide Channel is different, Dick Porter, exec VP-general manager of TV Guide Media Sales, recently commissioned a study from researcher Gallop & Robinson to show that half-screen commercials work as well, if not better, than commercials on other cable networks with similar characteristics.

"We looked at E!, CNN, Headline News and Fox Family Channel," Mr. Porter said. "It's kind of a good mix; their ratings are similar to ours." The study revealed full-screen networks average an 11.8% recall, while TV Guide Channel averaged 12.4%

TV Guide Channel also has taken advantage of other assets in the TV Guide family -- the magazine, TV Guide Online Web site and its new TV Guide Interactive service -- in signing up advertisers in cross-media deals. Mr. Porter said brands such as Excedrin, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler recently have inked deals across other TV Guide properties. Last week, TV Guide also signed a deal with VH-1 to introduce "Music News" segments in the magazine,. on TV and online.

"They've got a great name," said Howard Nass, senior VP-corporate director of local broadcast for TN Media, New York.

TV Guide Channel landed a Nielsen Media Research 0.6 household prime-time rating in the first quarter, up 8% from the same period in 1999.

"Other networks of similar size are losing ratings," said Pam McKissick, president-chief operating officer for TV Guide Networks.

So why is the channel working? Ms. McKissick said it's because the network plays to today's computer culture, in which "everyone is multitasking."M

"There is a stickiness because viewers are getting all kinds of entertainment [information]," she said.

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