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It’s Not Just a Listing Anymore

Feb 5, 2007  •  Post A Comment

TV Guide Channel is going far from the glamor of Hollywood to film its first reality series.

The network, which is moving away from its roots as a scrolling program-listing service, is going to Midland-Odessa, Texas, to watch the staff of ICA Broadcasting-owned KOSA-TV put together its daily newscasts.

Ryan O’Hara, president of TV Guide Channel, described “Making News: Texas Style” as `”The Office’ meets `Broadcast News,’ reality-style.”

Nick Davis Productions will spend months in Midland at the CBS affiliate delving into the staff’s work lives and personal lives. The show’s 13 episodes are due to begin airing in June.

“Making News” is the latest of the network’s efforts to overhaul its programming. Not so long ago, TV Guide Channel generated decent ratings with its listings because cable viewers had few other sources for program information. But as cable went digital and introduced interactive program guides, the channel needed to change.

It began producing more shows about what’s on TV and showbiz news. It built a studio in Hollywood and ramped up its red-carpet coverage by hiring Joan and Melissa Rivers.

Last year, TV Guide Channel was the 43rd-ranked cable channel in total viewers in prime time, its viewership having fallen 4 percent. “We did have some bleed in analog homes due to the scroll,” Mr. O’Hara said. As analog homes switch to digital, TV Guide Channel loses the viewers who were simply checking the listings.

Mr. O’Hara wouldn’t mind phasing out the scrolling listings altogether. DirecTV currently airs the channel’s programming on a full screen.

“We think this is one of the most improved channels on television,” he said, noting that viewers are sticking with the channel 7 percent longer per visit than in 2005.

Though the network’s ratings aren’t up, ad revenues are thanks to the new format, according to Kagan Media. Kagan estimates TV Guide Channel generated $103.4 million in net ad revenue in 2006, up from $97.1 in 2005. It projects the channel will bring in $113.8 million in 2007.

The network’s profit margin has fallen from 49 percent in 2004 as it has ramped up program spending. The network spent $19.6 million on programming in 2004, and Kagan estimates this year’s spending at $35.4 million.

“They have had a lot of distractions in upper management” because of a legal battle with its parent company’s former CEO, said Kagan analyst Derek Baine. “Hopefully going forward they will be able to pay more attention to the network.”

He added that TV Guide Channel will also have to invest a significant amount of money in marketing to make viewers aware of the programming changes.

Mr. O’Hara said “Making News” would be the first in a series of big programming announcements for this year. He said the network’s coverage of reality shows was popular with viewers, making the genre a natural when it came to creating original programs.

The network looked at several markets before settling on a station in Texas. “We picked this one because the characters are so interesting and so dynamic,” Mr. O’Hara said. “We thought America would find these characters the most compelling.”

One of those characters was working at a different station in the market when Davis Productions first went to the Midland-Odessa market. Jay Hendricks moved from Midessa Television-owned NBC affiliate KWES-TV, where he was anchor and news director, to KOSA in September. He’ll start anchoring after his non-compete deal expires in April.

KOSA news director Jose Gaona said that when Mr. Hendricks came on board he thought that the producers thought that the dynamic between the new anchor and the station’s previous anchor, Bill Warren, now a reporter at the station, would provide some sparks, but found Mr. Warren to be very professional. “They might have been hoping there would be a little more drama,” Mr. Gaona said.

Mr. Gaona said he was concerned that the reality crew would distract his staff as it tried to replace KWES as the top station in the market, but there haven’t been any issues. He hasn’t been caught chewing anyone out on film yet nor have there been any of the typical fights between producers and reporters. “I’m sure it’s going to happen at some point,” he said.

Mr. Gaona said he was aware of a photographer who is dating a reporter at the station, but both parties had been discrete about it. A TV Guide spokesperson said the film crew had already discovered that relationship.

With crew shooting for so long, the producers will provide material for TV Guide Channel’s VOD service, its broadband service, which his distributed through Google and Brightcove, and on TVGuide.com.

“We have a lot of digital products at this company,” Mr. O’Hara said.