Time Warner Cable said Wednesday that it signed a five-year affiliate deal with Tribune Media Services to license the company's Zap2it passive electronic program guide.
Gemstar TV Guide International Inc. currently dominates the passive guide market with its TV Guide Channel. The deal could give the MSO and parent AOL Time Warner Inc. some leverage in its broader talks with Gemstar about licensing its TV Guide Interactive interactive program guide.
Time Warner spokesman Mike Luftman said it's premature to say when the MSO might deploy Zap2it, which systems would launch the guide or how many subscribers may receive the Tribune offering.
Tribune Media Services EPG products general manager John Kelleher said Time Warner has tested Zap2it "in a couple of beta sites."
The MSO declined to say how many subscribers currently receive TV Guide Channel, although it's known that Time Warner offers the channel in many markets, including New York City.
"I will be surprised if they [Time Warner] replace [TV Guide] Channel with Zap2It," Gemstar co-president Peter Boylan wrote in an electronic-mail exchange last Wednesday. "Consumers love and trust TV Guide as the authority on listings and entertainment information."
Time Warner Cable officials told Gemstar they have "total flexibility" in their deal with Tribune, Boylan added.
The agreement marks Tribune's first MSO deal for Zap2it, which is a scrolling guide like TV Guide Channel. But a key difference is that Zap2it gives the operator complete control of the video window, which can be used as a barker channel, for local advertising or for local programming, TMS director of business development Jay Fehnel said.
With TV Guide Channel, Gemstar controls the video window, using it to sell advertising, and keeps most of the revenue.
Tribune sits alongside the TVGateway IPG consortium-formed last summer by WorldGate Communications Inc., Cox Communications Inc., Comcast Corp. and Adelphia Communications Corp.-as competition in the guide market.
Charter and Comcast later signed long-term licensing deals to offer TV Guide Interactive to most of their subscribers, although the agreements are not exclusive.
In the past, Boylan has said a broad license signed by America Online Inc. and Gemstar in 1999 (prior to AOL's merger with Time Warner Inc.) would force Time Warner Cable to replace IPGs from Scientific-Atlanta Inc. and Pioneer New Media with TV Guide Interactive. Gemstar is in active talks with AOL Time Warner on the issue, Boylan said in a recent conference call.
Kelleher conceded that Time Warner could be using TMS as leverage, but said he has no problem with that.
"If you look at the history, that's what they do with programmers and everyone else. We think being used as leverage will help us deploy," Kelleher said.
TMS aims for 20 percent of the U.S. passive guide market, he said.