Gemstar's Gadgets Lured Westlake

7/29/2001 8:00 PM Eastern

Blair Westlake's new job at Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. may not seem as sexy as his work at Universal Studios, where he developed popular series like Blind Date
and launched 10 international networks.

His new office, at Gemstar's headquarters in Pasadena, Calif., is only 15 miles from Universal City. But the product line at Gemstar — which includes the company's popular TV Guide
magazine, its interactive program guide and the TV Guide Channel — is a world away from the glitz of Hollywood.

Westlake, who was recently named executive vice president at Gemstar — he reports directly to CEO Henry Yuen — said he's attracted by the technology the company is developing.

"I really saw this as a way for Gemstar, but also for me to grow and take the background that I have and an understanding of what large content owners are looking for, because at the end, it's a symbiotic relationship," Westlake said.

Westlake said his key role will be to build synergies between Gemstar units, including TV Guide
magazine, TV Guide Channel, and the IPG division.

"What I'm looking to do with the various businesses is to be able to do something that many, if not most companies have an almost impossible time doing, which is getting various pieces to work in concert together to create and offer a more compelling offering across the board."

Westlake spent 19 years at Universal, most recently as chairman of Universal's Television and Networks Group.

Though he has a background in developing and acquiring content, Westlake said he won't be buying programming for TV Guide Channel. But he will use his relationships with content producers to help the staff at TV Guide Channel, which recently began offering longer-form programming to subscribers, he said.

TV Guide Channel programming has been posting high numbers, including Hollywood Insider
, which has been averaging a 0.8 Nielsen Media Research rating.

Gemstar's goal would obviously be for consumers to use TV Guide on every platform where it's available, from print to the Internet to digital cable.

Blair acknowledged, though, that if TV Guide is popular on one platform, such as the IPG, the print magazine could be cannibalized.

"At the end, though, what it generally results in is that you are providing such a compelling offering through various means of delivery, that in fact the overall spend and the overall experience grows," Westlake said.

Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernhoff said Westlake's content background could help Gemstar improve the user interface on its TV Guide Interactive IPG.

"TV Guide
the magazine is probably the best that it can be, partly because the magazine's TV listings are very complete. But the interactive program guide could, in my opinion, use some significant improvement in the user interface," Bernhoff said.

Gemstar has several patent-infringement lawsuits pending, and a case before the International Trade Commission against Pioneer Electronics Corp., Scientific-Atlanta Inc., EchoStar Communications Corp. and SCI Systems Corp.

If Gemstar were to lose the ITC case, it would face more competition in the IPG market, which it currently dominates, Bernhoff noted. That would also be another good reason for the company to hire an executive with Westlake's background, he said.

Westlake said Gemstar would like cable operators to make TV Guide Interactive their portal, or the first screen that subscribers see when they turn on their televisions.

"If they don't, we'd like to believe that we're going to have something so compelling that they make that decision, and the consumer ultimately says to them, 'I want this to be the first screen.' "

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