Distancing itself from its program-guide roots, TV Guide Channel will undergo a subtle name change next month to reflect its ramped-up commitment to original programming.
In the rebranding, TV Guide Channel will become TV Guide Network June 4. It plans to celebrate its new, tweaked moniker with a big relaunch bash, featuring American Idol runner-up Chris Daughtry, at The Cable Show in Las Vegas next week.
The name change is “on strategy with what we’re trying to convey to cable operators, advertisers and, equally important, consumers,” TV Guide Channel president Ryan O’Hara said.
In terms of marketing, a switch to “network” from “channel” in a name may seem like a tiny adjustment. But O’Hara said the rebranding underscores the service’s ongoing transformation into a purveyor of entertainment content rather than just a utility offering on-screen TV listings.
“We like the name TV Guide Network because it definitely conveys that we’re a programming network, straight-forward and clear,” O’Hara said. “With a lot of networks, it might not matter, the nuance between ‘channel’ and ‘network.’ They’re pretty close. For us, I felt that ‘network’ conveyed programming, and we’re really working hard to let people know that we’re about great programming.”
TV Guide Channel has ratcheted up its original-programming efforts in an effort to offset defections from digital viewers who have turned to interactive program guides and because it needs to increase ad sales, facing fairly flat fees from distributors.
Searching for breakout shows to define its brand, the network will add two original series to its lineup this summer. One of them, America’s Next Producer, is from the executive producer of reality TV blockbusters Project Runway and Top Chef.
TV Guide Channel made several moves in the past month to bolster its schedule, including signing actress and fashion aficionado Lisa Rinna as the new host for live red-carpet coverage at awards shows, replacing the mother-daughter duo of Joan and Melissa Rivers.
“[Rinna] fits really well where we’re taking the channel and the brand,” O’Hara said, adding that she will appeal to a younger audience.
And in a big acquisition for the network, TV Guide Channel in April secured exclusive rights to a group of VH1 “celebreality” shows -- including The Surreal Life, Flavor of Love, My Fair Brady and I Love New York -- starting in July.
“In one fell swoop, we were able to acquire a lot of really good product,” O’Hara said. “It adds a lot to our late-night blocks.”
To be more viewer-friendly, in June, TV Guide Channel is also reducing the number of local ad avails that it gives affiliates, trimming them to three minutes from 10.And during this upfront, the network, which has seen explosive carriage growth, is trying to broaden and expand its roster of national sponsors.
“As we become more of a programming service and are really seen as a leading programming service, there is tremendous opportunity to do more business with blue-chip advertisers,” O’Hara said.
Growing ad-sales dollars is crucial for TV Guide Channel, which generated roughly $130 million in revenue last year for parent Gemstar-TV Guide International.
Although it’s seen a huge increase in carriage -- to 81 million homes from 57 million in 2003 -- the network’s monthly, per-subscriber license fee this year is expected to average just 3 cents, up from 2 cents last year, according to SNL Kagan.
TV Guide Channel has long-term carriage deals that only permit cost-of-living increases from distributors, Gemstar-TV Guide said in a securities filing. Most of its future revenue growth “is highly dependent” on ad sales, it said.
Advertisers buy a TV network’s audience, and TV Guide Channel faces some unique challenges not only attracting new viewers, but hanging on to old ones.
As customers upgrade to digital-TV service from analog, even if they’ve historically used TV Guide Channel, they often switch over and use IPGs to search for programming, O’Hara said. That’s siphoning viewers from the network.
And in an ironic twist, TV Guide Channel is essentially competing for viewers against interactive guides that are its corporate siblings. The network’s parent is a major player in the IPG business.
“In a digital home, the IPG is many times the utility of choice to search for television listings,” O’Hara said. “From a company perspective, we are all for that, because in the IPG space, we’re [Gemstar-TV Guide] the leader and we’re proud of our products and our intellectual property and everything we bring to that equation.”
So TV Guide Channel is using original programming -- and jazzing it up -- to lure digital subscribers back, giving them content to look at, rather than just TV listings.
“That’s why you see us being so aggressive and innovative on the programming side, because we know in digital homes, the programming is the key to the network more so than the scroll,” O’Hara said. “In homes that are analog -- and there are still a lot of analog homes -- the usage of our scroll is enormous. Even if they only have 40-60 analog channels, they still need to know how much good programming is within those channels and what to watch.”