TV Guide Network wants advertisers to know it’s becoming a lot more TV and considerably less guide. The cable network, which started as scrolling TV listings “barker” channel, Prevue Channel, has gradually been reformatting itself to become a “full-screen” entertainment TV network that eschews its TV listings heritage in favor of conventional programming. Based on its negotiations with cable and satellite operators, more than 75% of TV Guide Network’s total distribution (80 million households) will be carrying the full-screen version of the channel, dropping its listings scroll altogether, by the end of this year.
The move, which coincides with the network’s aggressive investment in long-form entertainment programming – both original productions and high-profile acquisitions – is designed to remake it into a general entertainment destination for both TV viewers and advertisers.
“The scroll has been, by far, our greatest selling challenge to the advertising community,” concedes Tim Russell, senior vice president-advertising sales, because the scroll runs during commercial breaks, as well as throughout its regular programming.
With the exception of some advertisers in the TV and entertainment category, Russell says most advertisers and agencies have simply felt that having the scroll present during commercial breaks competed too much with their advertising.
The network’s executives say they aren’t abandoning their TV listings roots altogether, but have shifted that information to the network’s companion Web site, and are emphasizing conventional programming on TV. The TV Guide print magazine was spun off years ago, and the channel is now owned jointly by Hollywood studio Lionsgate, and a private equity group.
That connection didn’t help TV Guide Network land the off-network rights to AMC’s “Mad Men” series, which is owned by Lionsgate, when it went into syndication. The network tried, but was outbid by a deep-pocketed Netflix.
Despite the lack of a signature TV series, TV Guide Network’s Russell says the channel has been investing heavily in other acquisitions, as well as original program development. The channel premiered “Nail Files” in June and "Hollywood Moms Night" and “Wilson Philips: Still Holding On” in November, and Russell says more original content will roll out in 2012.
Meanwhile, he says crossing the 75% full-screen mark, is a major step for TV Guide Network, noting that most of those upgrades have been in major TV markets, including New York, Los Angeles,Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington DC and Boston, and that the remainder of its listings scroll versions tend to be in rural markets where many subscribers still don’t have digital TV access, and actually rely on the listings information.
“We’re transitioning,” he says.