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TV Guide Draws Viewers to Web

1/30/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Back in the day, TV Guide was the only
guide in town.

Then a tsunami of digital products joined the venerable
viewer. Today, nearly six months after launching
its online Watchlist product, TV Guide Digital, which
operates the eponymous website TVGuide.com, is gearing
up for its next phase, with a host of new features the company
hopes will make it indispensable for TV viewers.

Watchlist was launched in August and basically
allows users to track their favorite shows, sports
teams and celebrities across all platforms — linear
TV, online, on demand and DVD through services like
Netflix and Amazon.

Since August about 450,000 users have signed up for
Watchlist, exceeding even TVGuide.com’s initial expectations
and poised to grow even larger.

“That is what we see as the next generation of the grid,”
said TV Guide Digital executive vice president and general
manager Christy Tanner.

ON SALE BLOCK

TV Guide Digital is owned by Lionsgate Entertainment,
which also owns the TV Guide Network. Both properties
have been on the block for about a month and could
be sold in the coming months. Tanner declined to comment
on a possible sale.

The Watchlist is the latest in a series of additions to
the Web portal that Tanner has made since coming on
board in 2006. Tanner views the TVGuide.com site as
five separate sites in one — a news site that uses its 20
editors to generate entertainment news, gossip and exclusive
interviews; a social-media engine that allows users
to share information and chat about shows on Facebook
and other social-media sites; the Watchlist; linear television
listings; and fan pages and reviews.

Via more than 120 different sources, including Comcast’s
Xfinity.tv, Hulu, individual programmer websites
and sites like Funny or Die, Watchlist users also can view
select episodes of TV shows, movies and trailers.

“There are six different ways you can get there,” Tanner
said of locating content. “This is your one-stop shop.”

The on-demand aspect of Watchlist was initially
launched with Comcast, but Tanner would like to expand
that reach. “What we aim to do is to have every provider’s
data in here to allow users to make the best decisions.”

TVGuide.com is talking to all major distributors and is
planning on adding more features in the coming months
— it hopes to fully integrate the Watchlist into its mobile
app by the second quarter of this year, and email notifcation of upcoming programming and a remote DVR feature
are coming soon.

But the main driver of the model for the site is advertising
— since 2010, TVGuide.com has added about 70 sponsors
for its Watchlist and social media
features, ranging from networks like
ABC and Starz to companies like Starbucks
and Microsoft. That focus has
paid off — Tanner said 2011 marked
TVGuide.com’s second consecutive
year of profitability and its fifth straight year of
double-digit traffic growth.

“When our team conceived of these products,
we really thought through what are the advertising
opportunities,” Tanner said. “When you think
about it, a dollar spent on a Watchlist ad over the
lifetime of the show, it’s a very well-spent dollar.”

As content choices have grown into the thousands,
with VOD and online offerings included, cable operators
have been searching for navigation tools that
will allow customers to more easily toggle through
the growing number of selections. While many have
tried to address the problem internally, dozens of
other companies have sprung up over the years —
including former TV Guide parent Rovi, TiVo and,
most recently, Google TV — with their own solutions.

Miller Tabak media analyst David Joyce said
with the proliferation of content available, finding
a way to organize and locate programming more
easily would be compelling to most operators.

“The marriage of the TV and the Internet has been
a logical evolution for a long time that is just coming
to fruition,” Joyce said. “There is room for products
like this.”

RECOMMENDATION ENGINES

RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank said
what’s missing from the equation is a search algorithm
that finds not only the specific show that
a user is looking for but, like Netflix or iTunes,
seeks out content that the user doesn’t know
about but might like to watch.

“If they could crack that code, they would be the first to
do it efficiently,” Bank said of developing a broader recommendation
engine. “That would be an interesting product.”

Tanner said that discovering new programming is an
integral part of the site — for example, its Social Power
Rankings list the 10 most talked-about shows on the site,
fan pages, Facebook and Twitter. In addition, smart recommendations
will roll out this year.

In the meantime, TVGuide.com continues to grow. Traffic has grown exponentially since 2006, from 4.5 million
unique users to 24 million today. About 6 million iPhone,
iPad and Android users have downloaded its mobile application,
with 1.5 million active users monthly.

“The key goal for us this year is doubling down on the
Watchlist in every way possible — growing the user base,
adding new partners and synching what is already a robust
online experience with our mobile product,” Tanner said.

 

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