When I was a kid there was a magical day that came once a week: TV Guide day. Mind you this was pre-Internet times, and this was like some super secret look into the future of my favorite TV shows. The Fall Preview issue was treated as an almost religious experience as you got to see what all new shows were coming for the year, and you could plot out what you would try, and what you would pass on. (I can proudly say I knew from the first line of the description of Cop Rock that I would be passing.)
So what became of this famous brand once the Internet took hold? As is easy to guess, the print version of the guide began to flounder, and while it has had many format changes, it is still in existence today, but it is online where the famous name has not only survived, but it is flourishing.
I got the opportunity to sit down with Paul Greenberg, Executive Vice President & General Manager of TVGuide.com, recently to discuss where the brand has been, and where it is going.
Four years ago, when Mr. Greenberg was brought into the company, the TVGuide site had traffic of 4 million unique visitors a month; in 2009 the site saw a 45% increase in year-over-year traffic with the numbers hitting 21 million unique visitors a month with an average visit lasting 18 minutes, and 36 page views per visit. Best of all, when you got past the uniques, visitors were coming to the site an average of five times a month.
All of this has been accomplished through a combination of factors; the newest, and possibly most exciting, is the MyTVGuide.com DVR which has brought together all of the various television streaming services into one centralized page. You can favorite the shows you like, and then the site will let you know when you have new episodes to watch and this eliminates the need to remember which sites have which shows.
The added bonus is the amount of content that you get along with each show you watch on the site. If you click on the name of a show on the site’s programming grid, you receive instant links to learn more about the show, the actors and links to watching the videos that the site has to offer. There is almost a sense of being overwhelmed by the amount of data the the site gives you at your fingertips. “It’s about being immersive,” said Mr. Greenberg, “we aren’t trying to overwhelm people by just opening a firehose of content on them, we want to give them the information they want, in a way they want.”
This same philosophy is what Mr. Greenberg and the company are going to apply to expansions in the future. With the success of the Web site, it’s time to start turning an eye to the future platforms which is going to call for a lot more tinkering. The TV Guide iPhone app (iTunes link) has already had over 400,000 installs and is growing, but getting the content out there is going to be the next big push it seems. “I think we’re going to work on taking our content to multiple different platforms,” said Mr. Greenberg, “that includes game consoles, connected TVs and I think there is a lot we can do in the VOD (Video on Demand) space as well. We want to be where we can be providing some cutting edge stuff for people who are trying to figure out ‘how can I find a lot of great content to watch?’ now that content is proliferating to lots of different platforms.”
With this proliferation of content, that is one thing that Mr. Greenberg feels is leading to consumer confusion because there are so many options now, and that led me to ask him if he felt the major networks can survive in the years to come. “Yes, but it will require them to evolve quickly,” he said, and I thought that felt like such an appropriate comment from a brand that has done just that over the past few years.
TV Guide was one of the biggest print media outlets in its prime, and while we read constantly about how print media is dying, and we hear so many executives whining about how the Internet is killing them, here is an outfit that has not only skipped the moaning, they have embraced the Internet full on and have some huge results to show for all of their hard work. One of the first things Mr. Greenberg said to me during out short chat is that he doesn’t want anyone to think of the TV Guide brand as “old and musty”, but I would say anyone that spends more than a few cursory minutes on their site will quickly see it is anything but that.