TV Guide Network Continues to Fill Out Its Full-Screen Roster

With rollouts and upgrades from key distributors, TV Guide Network has pushed its carriage penetration with full-screen presence past the 80% plateau.

The network has increased its commitment to original and acquired programming as it continues to eliminate the listings scroll that appears alongside those shows on-screen.

The transformation from the guide format helped the company score a number of key launches with Comcast, Cox Communications and Verizon FiOS over the course of 2012, according to Friday Abernethy, executive vice president of distribution sales and marketing at TV Guide Network

Heading into 2013, TV Guide Network, which owners Lionsgate and One Equity Partners are said to be shopping, now counts some 80 million households, with full screens available to 83% of that subscriber base. That’s up from 70% at the end of 2011.

“It’s been a legacy thing in some cases. With all of the interactive guides out there, you would think it would be easy to make that change,” Abernethy said, noting the channel had been serving “two masters." She said that "over the past two years, we’ve been testing different programming. Now, our affiliates and viewers are aware that TV Guide Network is becoming a full entertainment destination.”

Abernethy said 2012 marked a big year of affiliate advancement with key Comcast areas. In Seattle, Comcast converted the entire market to full screen, while in the Washington D.C. Beltway, the nation’s top distributor followed up last year’s conversion to full screen by launching TV Guide Network HD across this territory.

All Comcast customers in greater Boston now view TV Guide Network in full screen. Previously, only 40% of its systems in the No. 7 DMA received the service.  

Comcast’s Freedom Region, including the New York/New Jersey and Philadelphia DMAs, completed a nine-month distribution rollout of TV Guide Network that included incremental launches to fill in the remaining 28% of the market, the completion of a full-screen conversion throughout, and the launch of the HD service across the entire region.

“We’re almost completely distributed with Comcast, except in a couple of small markets,” said Abernethy. “They have been helpful in filling out their footprint and adding HD.”

From Dec.6-12, Verizon launched TV Guide Network in HD across its entire footprint. “Verizon delivered on the HD front; they’re a big distributor,” she said.

With a Cox rollout in Santa Barbara,Calif., at the end of last month, TV Guide Network became 100% available to its customers, with complete full-screen presentation, up from 53% a year ago.

Earlier this year, Dish launched TV Guide’s expanded video-on-demand offering. All told, since 2009, TV Guide’s VOD usage has grown 365% since 2005, according to Abernethy.

Over time, on-demand content has morphed away from what she describes as “short, snacky pieces to a platform more complementary to linear.” TV Guide offers some 20 hours of VOD monthly – with 25% refreshed on a weekly basis.

TV Guide Network’s lineup includes originals like comedy series StandUp in Stilettos, as well as reality series Nail Files, tracking the goings-on in a Tinseltown salon; Wilson Phillips: Still Holding On, following one of the top girl groups including sisters Carnie Wilson and Wendy Wilson and best friend Chynna Phillips on the comeback trail; and Hollywood Girls Night, where friends Alison Sweeney and Ali Landry allow cameras to film their private potluck dinners and attendant girl talk.

On the acquired front, TV Guide has secured weekly late-night comedy talk show Rove LA, hosted by Australia’s Rove McManus and Celebrity Style Story, which follows the evolution of such stars as Jennifer Aniston, Beyoncé, Blake Lively and George Clooney, from their early career fashion faux pas to their finest A-list celebrity red carpet moments. 

These programs complement the network’s red carpet specials across the entertainment industry’s award season and theatricals like E.T., Driving Miss Daisy and The Fugitive that are airing this month.

A spokeswoman said the network is scheduled to make a significant programming announcement in January.

Abernethy said TV Guide Network has carriagedeals with all of the top distributors, save for Cablevision. “We’ve had discussions in the past. Now that things have settled down, we’re going to go back in there,” she said, referring to executive vice president of programming Tom Montemagno recently succeeding Mac Budill, who joined NBCUniversal, as the MSO’s affiliate chief.

Abernethy won’t put a percentage on distribution growth prospects for 2013, other than to say TV Guide “hopes to have gains.” She also declined to discuss license fees, but noted the network is a revenue generator for the company. They are thrilled with our progress.” SNL Kagan estimates TV Guide's monthly sub fee at three cents.

The company declined comment on reports that Lionsgate and One Equity are looking to sell the TV Guide Network at an asking price of $350 million.