TV Guide Looks Long

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On the heels of its launch on DirecTV Inc. and a pact with Mediacom Communications Corp., TV Guide Channel this week will unveil an updated look and jazzier longform programming.

As part of a major revamp, TV Guide Channel on Jan. 26 was slated to bow entertainment-oriented fare, offering "subjective guidance" on which TV shows to watch. The linchpin is a nightly signature show What's On, hosted by Lesley Ann Machado, formerly of TBS Superstation's "The Movie Break."

The new original programming, along with other changes, is part of an effort to invigorate and update TV Guide Channel, officials said at a press conference last week.

CARRIAGE COMMITMENTS

At that event, TV Guide also disclosed it had reached its first-ever, multiyear carriage agreement with Mediacom and Mediacom Broadband LLC. Leading up to the long-term pact, Mediacom has expanded its carriage of TV Guide Channel by 25% during the past year, according to network officials.

In recent months, the guide channel also finalized deals with Time Warner Cable and Insight Communications Co. TV Guide Channel is also launching on multiple Cebridge Connections systems.

The raft of changes at the TV Guide Channel, a Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. property, were unveiled just a few days after the network's DirecTV launch, which brings its distribution to nearly 70 million from 58 million homes.

"It's really a validation of what we're doing to the channel," Gemstar CEO Jeff Shell said, referring to the rollout on the DBS giant.

The DirecTV deal closed before the company was purchased by News Corp., which owns a 43% stake in Gemstar.

Ian Aaron, president of the TV Guide Television Group, stressed that distributors have had success using the onscreen guide to promote digital tier and video on demand offerings.

"We did a recent study that showed that VOD buy rates were 40% higher at systems that carried TV Guide Channel," Aaron told reporters.

One of Gemstar's mandates is to redefine and improve TV Guide Channel, its interactive program guide and TV Guide
magazine, which relaunched in the fall, according to Shell.

Apart from that, "distribution is the key this year," said Shell, the leader of the new management team running Gemstar. Five ex-officials from Gemstar's old regime are being sued by the Securities & Exchange Commission.

TV Guide Channel's main new program offering, What's On, will air Sunday through Friday at 7 p.m., with updated shows at both 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. The centerpiece of the show is its "What's Next" segment, which will offer recommendations for viewing for the next hour.

The network over the past few years has been adding longer segments that air above its scroll of TV listings.

But in this latest go-around, at first blush the network seems to be mirroring E! Entertainment Television with new shows like TV Guide Close-Up, which looks at events in the TV world; and TV Talk, in which celebrities talk about what they like and dislike about television.

In terms of programming, TV Guide Channel will also produce two original, one-hour-themed specials a month, on topics like the Golden Globe Awards and the Oscars.

In line with its move into programming, TV Guide Channel has opened two Los Angeles production facilities overlooking Hollywood Boulevard. One is a windowed studio that will serve as the set of What's On.

The other facility is an exposed mini-studio that is located directly across from Grauman's Chinese Theater, which is meant as a backdrop for coverage of premieres, TV events and breaking news.

DIGITAL-AGE IDENTITY

Finally, the Los Angeles-based Troika Design Group has created a new brand identity for the network, designing new on-air packaging to update its look.

"It's a bolder, stronger, much more updated look," said Danila Koverman, senior vice president of programming and production for the TV Guide TV Group.

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