How TV Listings Avoided Going the Way of TV Dinners's 'Watchlist' Aims to Cull Favorites From Beyond Boob Tube

By Published on .

TV listings, those programming schedules that seem to be as much a part of American media diets as sports scores and weather charts, are steadily getting an upgrade.

Where listings were once creatures of print, they have taken on the interactive qualities of the new digital milieu. is unveiling an updated "watchlist" that not only tells fans of shows at what time and on what channel their favorite programs will appear, but allows viewers to acknowledge a program by using an "I'll Watch" check-in feature that tells friends and followers on social media what programing they favor.

And in a nod to the multiple sources of video that have sprouted since the first national TV programs beamed into American living rooms in the late 1940s, the watchlist also tells users how to find shows through venues such as Netflix, Hulu and cable distributors' video-on-demand offerings -- from about 120 different video sources in all.

"It doesn't matter why you are or how you are planning to watch," said Christy Tanner, exec VP-general manger of TV Guide Digital. "Your options are right there in front of you."

New to the concept is the idea that TV fans can instruct the watchlist to suss out not only favorite TV programs, but also sports teams or specific celebrities.

These days, Ms. Tanner said, a hardcore TV fan is likely to subscribe to cable, as well as some premium channels, watch Hulu, subscribe to Netflix and buy video through iTunes. "With the watchlist, I'm able to see everything that 's vital to me across all of these services."

The reworked listings source illustrates the pressure being placed on a relatively small but influential media sector. TV listings are largely the province of U.S. newspapers, the major online portals and such sites as and But these days they have to do more than simply answer the age-old question, "What's on TV tonight?" Instead, they have to collect and present a broader set of schedules and program appearances -- and make new ad opportunities available to the marketers, in this case TV networks and production studios, that typically support these ventures.

TV listings are "still important to tell us what's up and when," explained Paul Kurnit, clinical professor of marketing at Pace University's Lubin School of Business. No matter how many people watch programming through new digital means, ratings remain the driving measure of success in the business, and the listings help drive audience tune-in, he said. hopes advertisers will show more interest in the "I'll Watch" feature, which has registered more than 3.5 million check-ins since launching in October, currently averaging 20,000 check-ins per day. "If you're looking at stretching your marketing dollars, if somebody adds your new show to their watchlist, it's free marketing every week," said Ms. Tanner, noting that Time Warner 's TNT recently sponsored the feature with its "Rizzoli & Isles" crime-drama series.

The updated listings offer shows efforts at to make progress since the original TV Guide media was broken up; the print magazine was sold in 2010 to Open Gate Capital, while the website and cable channel are owned jointly by Lionsgate and JP Morgan Chase's One Equity Partners.

Most Popular
In this article: