TV Guide Tweaks Strike a Chord

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TV Guide Channel this week unveils a new on-screen programming grid, one of several content maneuvers to come over the next few months.

The changes are designed to give the scrolling programming guide, a unit of Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc., a hipper feel in order to drive viewership and awareness of digital tiers, video-on-demand and high-definition content.

"The answer to being relevant is to provide more subjective guidance on what's worth watching," TV Guide Networks COO Pam McKissick said.

Changes to the grid are set to take place on March 31, with the background screen's color changed to blue from gold. An additional listing line will be introduced, so that at any moment, three channels will be highlighted.

The grid will also signal where VOD presentations are available with an icon. TV Guide Channel's 2,600 affiliates will decide which titles receive the icon.

In September, What's On, the service's nightly roundup of selections reviewed by TV Guide
magazine editors, will change from a pre-primetime half-hour to 10-minute segments at 10 minutes before the hour.

Each segment, starting at 6:50 p.m., will cover 10 to 15 shows, topped by a choice for the hour ahead.

Ultimately, What's On will run elsewhere during the day, along with most of the channel's recurring video segments.

Simultaneously, the upper left quadrant of the guide's screen will become a "smart text box," where factoids pertaining to the video segments will appear. The quadrant will change every 20 seconds.

Network officials have been briefing major operators on the changes. Reviews sound positive so far.

Improving the grid look with another listing line "is a real plus," Cox Communications Inc. senior marketing vice president Joe Rooney said. Increased frequency of What's On
will be "a utility for viewers and will help their ratings," he added.

Said Comcast Corp. executive vice president of programming Matt Bond: "As the digital environment continues to grow, it's important that the product evolves, and this redesign represents important improvements in the user experience."

For July, the network will develop four two-minute HDTV vignettes that explain the technology. HDTV programs, highlighted by an icon, also will be included in the listing grid.

"These vignettes are an important, low-cost way for operators to show how cable's HDTV product works and is superior to other product out there," said Rooney.

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