What If Yahoo Bought TV Guide?

I may be dating myself here, but I still remember when families sifted through the print TV Guide that lived on their coffee tables to track down their favorite shows. Audiences today rely on a much larger store of digital resources to find what they want to watch: digital guides within cable boxes, social networking, and a slew of new TV recommendation startups. You can still find program scheduling on, the magazine, and the cable channel, but the focus has become much more editorial. With CBS’ recent $100 million purchase of a 50% stake in TVGN (TV Guide Network) and, all I could think of were the Internet companies that missed the boat on this tremendous opportunity.

Of all the companies that could have used a channel to strengthen their brands and increase their market share, the buy only further establishes CBS’s dominance as one of the most-watched television networks. It hasn’t been too long since CBS led all networks with seven of the top-10 viewed programs on a weekly basis, with shows that include “NCIS,” “Blue Bloods,” and “Hawaii Five-O.” Now CBS can add another cable network to its lineup of successful cable ventures: Showtime, CBS Sports Network, and Smithsonian Networks, and web properties that includeCNET, Clicker, GameSpot, and of course,

A missed opportunity

Last November, it was reported that Yahoo was considering a TV Guide bid, but the bid was said to be around $20 million. Seriously? Yahoo has $4 billion in cash. Why the low offer? TV Guide is currently available in more than 80 million homes. And just to compare the numbers, Al Jazeera purchased Al Gore’s Current TV for $500 million, increasing its household reach by 60 million. Current TV doesn’t even have close to the same brand recognition as TV Guide. I think Yahoo missed a huge opportunity to stake its claim in video and offer more content to its audiences. It’s clear that Yahoo wants to be respected as a leader in video, especially in the vein of celebrity and entertainment content (“The Insider,” “Burning Love”). Maybe there were legitimate reasons why the deal didn’t go to Yahoo, but it would have been a great win for them.

With the TV Guide purchase, Yahoo wouldn’t have had to build a television network from scratch to reach 80 million homes – the legwork was already complete. For $100 million, it could have benefited from a well-established and respected household name (the magazine is celebrating its 60th anniversary) and expanded its presence into living rooms across the country. Yahoo would have been able to further add to its online video library with clips and full episodes from TV Guide, add television audiences to its user base, and take advantage of TV Guide’s mobile applications (Yahoo Connected TV has its own struggles). And if you think about it, how much different are and (Yahoo TV), other than the fact most average folks probably haven’t heard of Yahoo TV? It’s hard to put a price tag on having a presence everywhere, but when you have $4 billion to play with, $100 million doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Audiences will continue to fragment, and it’s imperative for media stakeholders to build as many roads for their audiences to reach them as possible. If Yahoo bought TV Guide, it would have been more than just an acquisition opportunity – it would have been an opportunity to expand its brand from the computer screen to the living rooms of tens of millions of pay-TV subscribers, as well as to audiences who are increasingly embracing “available-everywhere” TV.  At least Yahoo is making some interesting moves with its acquisition of rights for “SNL” clips; there are also rumors about Yahoo’s possibly acquiring NFL Mobile rights and Hulu.

Yahoo is just one player in the market. This should be a call to action for other online media conglomerates or traditional companies trying to go digital to keep an open mind and an open checkbook, to take the risk when the returns are so promising.

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