CBS to Send Gemstar IPG Data

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Gemstar-TV Guide International will take its over-the-air program guide into the digital era with CBS.

Local CBS stations — available to more than 95% of U.S. households — will distribute the data for Gemstar-TV Guide's on-screen interactive-program guide using a portion of their broadcast digital spectrum as part of a multiyear distribution and advertising deal.

The deal allows for the distribution of data for the TV Guide On Screen guide over both CBS owned-and-operated stations and participating affiliates. Currently, Gemstar-TV Guide contracts with National Datacast Inc. (NDI), a for-profit subsidiary of PBS, which uses the vertical-blanking interval in the analog spectrum to distribute data.

Gemstar-TV Guide put the deal in place with an eye on the Federal Communications Commission's February 2009 deadline for discontinuing analog broadcasts, said Tom Carson, the company's president of North American IPG.

The data will be transmitted as program-information data as part of the core MPEG stream, according to Gemstar-TV Guide. In addition, the company said it has agreements with the top 10 multiple-system operators to distribute those PID signals digitally.

But as for trying to peel a viewer away from cable operators' own IPGs, Carson said the Gemstar-TV Guide IPG is primarily intended to reach viewers who receive over-the-air signals on their TV sets. “This is more of a complement to cable [on-screen program guides],” he said.

CBS and Gemstar-TV Guide said that distribution will begin as soon as the necessary equipment is installed in the next several months. Financial terms were not disclosed.

CBS and its affiliates have access to an unspecified portion of the ad inventory on the TV Guide IPG to promote their programming, both nationally and locally, but the stations will not be permitted to sell ad space on the guide to outside advertisers.

Why CBS? “We were looking for a partner that might have been interested in our advertising and also had a good, solid distribution network and a good, solid relationship with their affiliates,” Carson said, adding that Gemstar-TV Guide approached a number of broadcasters.

The Gemstar-TV Guide deal with CBS is not technically exclusive, but, Carson said, “This is clearly the single way we want to do our [digital] distribution.” In select markets where CBS does not have a local O&O station or affiliate, he added, the company may sign up an individual broadcaster.

Gemstar-TV Guide had a trial underway with NDI to distribute the IPG data using digital spectrum, but Carson said that provided coverage of only about half the U.S.

Only viewers who have digital TV sets or digital video recorders that embed the TV Guide On Screen technology will be able to access the IPG. Manufacturers that have signed deals with Gemstar-TV Guide to embed the IPG in their consumer-electronics products include Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Panasonic and Sony Electronics.