'TV Guide’ Changes Could Boost Tribune

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In a move that could provide a boost for Tribune Media’s monthly print TV guides and Sunday newspaper program listings, TV Guide magazine plans to eliminate 140 local editions, moving to a single national weekly magazine.

Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. announced the strategy shift for the struggling TV Guide late last month, saying that it will turn the digest-size issue into a full-size, full-color magazine that will contain more stories about TV shows, and house fewer TV listings.

The move means cable operators that distribute TV Guide will no longer be able to supply subscribers with listings for local channels, including cable-owned regional news and sports networks.

Additionally, cable operators in 20 top markets that have deals with Gemstar to get their brand name on the cover, including Time Warner Cable in New York, Comcast Corp. in Philadelphia and Cox Communications Inc. in Orange County, Calif., may also lose those local branding plugs.

Circulation at TV Guide has fallen from 20 million in the late 1970s to about 9 million this year. Gemstar-TV Guide executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Tonia O’Connor declined to discuss what percentage of TV Guide’s subscriber base comes through distribution deals with cable companies, in which Gemstar shares ad revenue with operators.

More than 1 million cable subscribers nationwide receive customized versions of Tribune Media’s The Channel Guide monthly magazine, which contains detailed program listings for local and national networks, according to Tribune vice president of entertainment products Barbara Needleman.

TV Guide’s format change could provide a lift for Tribune’s distribution with cable operators. “We do think it is a good opportunity for our new clients and we do think it’s a good opportunity for the cable operators with their monthly guides,” said Needleman.

Tribune also supplies TV listings for print listings that are included in Sunday supplements of local newspapers. With TV Guide eliminating local TV listings, more readers may also turn to newspapers to get TV schedules.

O’Connor noted that viewers are relying more and more on Gemstar’s interactive program guides to navigate hundreds of TV channels. But she said there will still be place for the new version of TV Guide in cable homes, for viewers that want to read about TV shows.

It’s too early to say whether the TV Guide format change will see cable operators replace the magazine with Tribune’s print guide, or other TV listings, according to O’Connor.

“We do expect that the dynamic of our relationship with cable operators is going to change, and I think it’s too early for me to comment on whether that’s going to reduce the subscriptions, or maybe possibly enhance it,” she said.