After supplying TV-listings data to local newspapers for 15
years, Tribune Media Services wants to sell an electronic program guide and interactive
program guide to cable operators.
The company plans to take the wraps off of its EPG, called
"ZAP2IT," at the Western Show this week. It hopes to conduct beta-tests for the
EPG during the first quarter, and to deploy it by the end of the second quarter, TMS vice
president of entertainment products Barbara Needleman said.
TMS still hasn't determined its strategy for the IPG.
Licensing technology from Gemstar International Group Inc., which controls several IPG
patents, "certainly is a possibility," Needleman said. "We're aware of the
patents that Gemstar has. We're looking at other technology, as well."
The company hopes to conduct a beta-test of the IPG by the
end of the second quarter, she added.
Two recent TMS acquisitions -- local cable-guide publisher
JDTV and UltimateTV, a Web site that provides TV listings -- are tied to the company's
EPG/IPG strategy. TMS plans to eventually rename UltimateTV ZAP2IT, and the company is
also studying how it could use an Internet-based solution to deliver its IPG, Needleman
With the EPG, TMS hopes to grab a piece of TV Guide Inc.'s
dominant stake of the passive-guide market by allowing operators to co-brand the service,
Needleman said. The ZAP2IT logo will appear on the upper-left corner of a television
screen, with the name of the local system running across the center of the screen, she
Gemstar and TV Guide, which have agreed to merge, dominate
the EPG and IPG markets. Source Media Inc.'s Interactive Channel also includes an IPG,
which is currently deployed to 4,500 Insight Communications Co. Inc. subscribers.
Needleman said she thinks cable operators would be
interested in TMS' product because they traditionally prefer to rely on more than one
vendor. "We're about choice, enabling the operators to have choice so they can do
what they need to do to reach consumers," she said.
The Yankee Group analyst Bruce Leichtman -- who recalled
buying TV-listings data from Tribune when he worked at Continental Cablevision Inc., for
its native Scientific-Atlanta Inc. guides -- said he thinks TMS has a good shot.
"Certainly, the TV Guide name is a good genre name,
but one also has to look at what the cost is," he said. "If [TMS] can come in at
a good price point, they might be something to be reckoned with."
TMS plans to give cable operators 10 minutes of advertising
time to sell locally per hour on its EPG channel, Needleman said. TMS will sell 25 minutes
of national advertising and share a portion of the national ad revenue with operators, she
TMS met with several MSOs -- including Time Warner Cable,
Comcast Corp. and Charter Communications Inc. -- at the National Show in June, pitching
print guides and discussing the EPG, Needleman said.
Cox hasn't talked with TMS about its EPG and IPG, but the
MSO plans to meet with the company at the Western Show, a spokeswoman said. Cox has
deployed three different guides in various markets -- Gemstar's StarSight product, S-A's
native guide and TV Guide's -- she added.
TMS and TV Guide, now competitors, are also distant
corporate siblings. A unit of United Video Satellite Group Inc., which was renamed TV
Guide, distributes WGN, which owned by TMS parent Tribune Broadcasting. "The parent
company is fine with this," Needleman said.