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TV Guide Finishes Content Makeover

Jan 6, 2008  •  Post A Comment

TV Guide Network is launching new programming during the first quarter, but most of the channel’s drama is going on behind the scenes.
The network is owned by Gemstar, which in December agreed to be acquired by Macrovision for $2.8 billion in stock. At the same time, the Hollywood award shows—red-carpet coverage of which draws the channel’s biggest ratings—are being threatened by the Writers Guild of America strike.
But in the short term, it’s business as usual, according to Ryan O’Hara, president of TV Guide Network. Mr. O’Hara has been working over the past few years to change the network from a channel that’s mainly scrolling TV listings to one with full-time entertainment programming.
With the addition next week of daily news show “Entertainment 411” and a new quiz show, “Celebrity Says,” in February Mr. O’Hara said his mission is accomplished.
“The transition from a network that was doing an hour or two of programming five years ago to one that’s now full-fledged, fully programmed on the par of [a] VH1- and E!-type network, is complete,” he said.
While last year’s Oscar red-carpet coverage drew record ratings, topping a 1.0 for the first time (up 22% from the previous year), the network still has a way to go in terms of attracting an audience.
Last year, TV Guide Network averaged 255,000 viewers in prime time, ranking it 45th among ad-supported cable networks. By contrast E! averaged 505,000 viewers and VH1 805,000 viewers.
On top of that, TV Guide Network’s revenues are down 0.5% to $96.5 million for the first nine months of 2007 from a year ago, in part because the company has had to give the channel away to some operators to avoid losing carriage, according to Derek Baine of SNL Kagan Research.
Mr. Baine said many people thought a media conglomerate would buy Gemstar to exploit its cable channel as well as its interactive program guide technology. Mr. Baine expects Macrovision will move quickly to re-sell Gemstar’s cable network.
Mr. O’Hara declined to comment on the acquisition by Macrovision and any changes the new owner might make in the direction of TV Guide Network.
In the meantime, he’s expecting the first quarter to be big for the channel, with 10 programs that are either red-carpet coverage (the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, the Grammys and the Academy Awards), specials or the launch of new series plus the return of its top series, “Idol Tonight,” which previews Fox’s “American Idol.”
“This is without a doubt the best programming quarter we’ve ever had,” he said.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the awards shows, Mr. O’Hara said TV Guide Network’s plan is in place and it’s “full speed ahead.”
The network will be using its red-carpet events as a springboard to launch new series.
The daily entertainment show “Hollywood 411” debuts Jan. 14, a day after the Globes. It is adopting some elements from “The 411,” which aired on Thursday nights and was the network’s highest-rated show produced in-house.
“Hollywood 411” will be hosted by Chris Harrison from “The Bachelor” and Madison Michele, who had hosted “The 411.” At one hour in length, Mr. O’Hara sees the show as competing with CNN’s “Showbiz Tonight” and the syndicated entertainment news shows.
“We actually ship the show out later than a lot of the syndicated shows do, so we’ll be able to be more timely,” Mr. O’Hara said.
After its Oscar coverage, TV Guide Network plans to launch “Celebrity Says,” a game show in which celebrities guess what stars said on the red carpet. The network has ordered 65 episodes from City Lights Television and will air it as a weekday strip beginning Feb. 25.
“Celebrity Says” is hosted by Dave Holmes from “Say What Karaoke” and “Fire Me Please.” The show provides synergies by using footage generated by red-carpet and other celebrity coverage for “Hollywood 411” and other shows on the network.
The material also is used for TV Guide broadband, which is distributed through cable operators, YouTube, and Veoh. TV Guide is producing some original programming for its broadband network.
To make room for the new shows, the channel in December canceled “Watch This,” a daily show hosted by Jon Henson.
Kraft will be a major sponsor of TV Guide’s red-carpet coverage. It will sponsor a fashion-cam at each event and will underwrite a sweepstakes. Top prize is an all-expense-paid trip to the Emmy Awards. Kraft has also created special spots featuring TV Guide Network host Lisa Rinna. The sweepstakes will be promoted both on air by TV Guide and on Kraft packages.

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