Spotlight conversation: Taking TV Guide beyond TV

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Scott Crystal
Scott Crystal

Q: You played a critical role in transforming TV Guide from listings to a full-on magazine. Can you describe that process?
What we did with the magazine in transforming it is really about reflecting what consumers were doing when it comes to viewing TV, and how their role was changing dramatically over the last few years. Because of the whole concept of place-shifting and time-shifting and the idea that now you can watch TV on numerous portable devices, TV Guide as a magazine needed to evolve.

The basis of the entire transformation is to make it more relevant and more compelling to today's generation of TV viewers. We started to do a lot of research in the marketplace and found out that what consumers today in the market want is less on specific listings and more on the entertainment aspect of TV, going behind the scenes of people's favorite shows and what's coming up and really taking a different perspective. So we literally inverted the model: the magazine used to be 80% listings, and now it's 80% feature edit and 20% listings, and that came out of research from consumers.

We spent about 2 years and millions of dollars conducting in-depth research, and the end result of transforming and eliminating the iconic digest was not a decision we took lightly. We believed in more than making a design change, so design, format, context, mission, distribution — there wasn't anything we were doing that wasn't transforming.

Q: How has TV Guide adapted its distribution and marketing strategies to changes in the marketplace over the past few years?
A: One of the things we changed was the distribution: we made it available in an exponentially larger amount of retail outlets. Because the digest was localized by 140 different editions, people didn't pick it up at airports — it wasn't even available there because customization didn't make sense unless they were staying in same zip code or where their cable provider was.

We invested significantly in circulation and got significantly more pockets at major retailers: the checkout pockets where celebrity entertainment titles sold, Wal-Mart and Kroger, but also places like airport terminals and mass transportation hubs. The last two were all new channels, so it broadened distribution.

We also marketed ourselves through different campaigns. From an awareness standpoint we asked, how do we alert consumers that this is not your father's Oldsmobile, so to speak, and that was a huge challenge because people would still see it as TV Guide the digest. We had to invite them inside the magazine to realize there's something new and different here.

We used our own platforms extensively – the TV Guide network, interactive e-programming guides and the Web site were all used significantly.

Q: How big a role does direct mail play in your marketing strategy?
A: We've increased our direct marketing campaigns and our direct mail. In the first year [of the redesign], we mailed over 25 million pieces of direct mail, and those were everything from standard to elaborate mini-magazines — 16 page folios of the full-sized TV Guide — so someone could get the sense and feel of tonality of the new magazine.

We had numerous creative packaging and different test offers to find out what would resonate the most, and they went out to different lists. We did a lot of predictive modeling on target lists, trying to make it appeal to females who were younger and more affluent. The goal was to entice a whole new generation of TV viewers and TV Guide fans.

We buy lists from different magazines; we test magazines that are indexing in the 130-150 range from direct mail success on their subscribers, and that's light years ahead of where we were 4 years ago, when we tested primarily house lists.

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