“Analysis” of TV Guide’s Future

1953_jan_23_tv_guide_mm.jpgAs a former employee of a company acquired by TV Guide, I read with interest the AP’s story on Macrovision‘s proposed purchase of it’s parent company, Gemstar – TV Guide International. The gist of the story was that TV Guide magazine will face an uncertain future with the new company. Macrovision, which makes anti-piracy tools, wants Gemstar for it’s “intellectual property and interactive programming,” making the TV Guide magazine a bit of a fish out of water in the new organization.

The magazine’s fall has been quick and dramatic. When NewsCorp bought the title in 1988, circulation was about 17 mm. By 2002 it was down to about 9mm, and today it stands at 3.3mm. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that onscreen and online guides are quickly making the magazine obsolete. The AP, not looking for a genius to comment for its story, found Melissa Pordy, director of media investment solutions in North America for advertising agency Cheil Worldwide, who offered that, “It will very quickly become obsolete because of its lack of reinvention. They just didn’t keep up with the change in technology.”

These kinds of quotes drive me nuts. We start by pointing out the obvious, and follow up with something at best baffling, and at worst just plain wrong. How did the magazine not keep up with the change in technology – by failing to buy the latest printing presses? Or did she mean the company didn’t keep up with new technology? If the latter, who does she thinkon_screen_1_hr.jpg developed that interactive programming that Macrovision wants so badly? Just because a product is winding down it’s useful life doesn’t mean that the company that produced it failed to innovate. TV Guide, along with everyone else in the guide business, saw long ago that listings were moving onscreen and online and spent a lot of time and money developing products to meet that demand. And apparently they were successful. The magazine, meanwhile, evolved away from a listings heavy focus and more toward stories and features. Advertisers liked the change and responded with more placements, but apparently the book was still in the red.

Just like saying “Down with the establishment” in the 60’s and “You just don’t get it” in the 90’s, today one must knock print products for failure to adapt in order to be in the “in crowd.” It’s so easy to provide criticism and so difficult to provide solutions. Products die natural deaths and smart companies milk the cash from them in their twilight years while working hard to birth their progeny.

TV Guide may have missed some opportunities to prolong the magazine’s life, but would be dying nonetheless. Perhaps Pordy would have preferred that the magazine compete head on with the likes of E! and Entertainment Weekly, but it seems unlikely that would have been a winning strategy. In the end, our understanding of the world just isn’t enhanced by reading another quote on some print product’s failure to adapt to new technology. Just because it’s what all the cool kids are saying doesn’t mean it has value.

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