TV Guide Gets Personal

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Gemstar-TV Guide International will roll out a series of viewer-customizable program guides over the next 18 months designed to let TV fans track their favorite shows, channels or celebrities — and get personalized recommendations — from their set-top box, PC or mobile phone.

Collectively called “My TV Guide,” the features will first be available through the company's Web-based guides, to be followed by its set-top box platforms and mobile TV-listing products.

In addition to serving up “portal-style” graphics, video previews and other editorial content, My TV Guide will provide the ability to remotely manage digital video recorders. Each member of the family will be able to set up a separate profile.

One of the concepts is to provide a more Internet-like experience for interactive program guides to let viewers more easily research what's on TV, Gemstar-TV Guide vice president of product management Peter Kellogg-Smith said. “Today, there's no one who has [Internet Movie Database] on the TV,” he said.

Another key goal is to provide a unified, personalized guide experience across multiple platforms, Kellogg-Smith said. For example, My TV Guide will eventually let subscribers remotely schedule their digital video recorder from a PC, or receive an alert on their cell phone when a favorite program is about to air.

The average cable or satellite household is capable of receiving 7,000 hours of TV content per day, Kellogg-Smith said, and consumers have long needed a better way to navigate the video landscape. “The more content there is, the more complexity you have,” he said.

Instead of starting with a search-based interface, he said, the company decided to create a “heads-up” display. A new area in the IPG called “My Guide” graphically displays a viewer's favorite programs, channels, genres or actors. My Guide, which will pull information from Gemstar-TV Guide's database of more than 2.3 million historical program descriptions, will include hyperlinks to be able to find all upcoming programs featuring a given star, for example.

“Hyperlinking keeps people in the guide longer,” Kellogg-Smith said.

When it began developing My Guide, the company assumed viewers would want to see a pre-populated list of shows in the favorites section. But after several focus-group sessions, Kellogg-Smith said, “the response was, 'No, we want to start with a blank slate.' ”

My Guide will make careful suggestions, such as most popular programs. Kellogg-Smith said My TV Guide will compile the list of popular shows from Nielsen Media Research figures or based on data from TVGuide.com searches. Another feature, called My Lists, will provide prepackaged and customizable compilations, such as lists of reality TV shows or upcoming “chick flicks.”

A “smart recommendations” feature will provide a TiVo-like flavor: Using a proprietary algorithm, My Guide will present viewers with a list of shows, celebrities and sports teams that appear to match their preferences.

Gemstar-TV Guide also hopes the personalization features will allow it — and its cable and satellite partners — to deliver better-targeted on-screen ads. The company's Advanced Guide Ad Services will provide interactive capabilities for program promotion and conventional advertisers, including the ability to view full-screen video, order a pay-per-view program, set up a DVR recording, visit an interactive showcase and request additional information from an advertiser.

Elements of My TV Guide will debut on TVGuide.com and cable partners' Web sites later this year, with the features expected to hit the company's set-top and consumer-electronics IPGs in late 2008.

Gemstar-TV Guide said it already has signed agreements to provide Listings2Go, a cobranded online guide, to 21 cable companies, including Suddenlink Communications.

The company also said it has signed deals with Verizon Communications, EchoStar Communications and DirecTV to collaborate on My TV Guide services — specifically, the ability to schedule and manage recording services from TVGuide.com.

On i-Guide, which is the IPG the company is developing through its GuideWorks joint venture with Comcast, remote-recording capability will be available with the A26 release, currently scheduled to be available in early 2008.

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