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THE NEW TV GUIDE…
October 18th, 2005 by Clark Humphrey 05

…is here, and, like we predicted, it’s a fiasco that has more in common with the dorkier industry-friendly gossip rags than with the great video bible of yore.

Ex-staffer Jeff Jarvis, noting that the mag’s also slashing its circulation “base rate” (the rate guaranteed to advertisers) from 9 million to 3 million (it peaked at 19 million in 1974), calls the relaunch “the incredible shrinking magazine.” He also calls it “the official end of the mass market,” with the print media’s one everything-for-everybody holdout reinventing itself as a niche product.

OK, I can deal with that. But if so, then the new TV Guide ought to be a niche product targeting people who really like watching TV, and want more info about what they’re watching than they can get in a standard gossip mag or a daily paper’s entertainment section. A TV Guide that’s scrapped its local listings had better make up for it by adding reviews, analysis, and background info.

The new TV Guide doesn’t do that, at least not yet. It presumes its typical reader to be a celebrity-obsessed, attention-span-challenged “vidiot.” It offers this mythical reader nearly 60 pages of breezy, show-bizzy material for which “fluff” would be too good a term, coupled with 18 pages of listing grids so nationalized and generalized as to be near-worthless. (There are no weekend daytime listings; weekday daytime and late-night grids are full of “various programming” and “local programming” disclaimers.)

With just a little effort, this could be improved. The articles could be at least as intelligent as they were in the magazine’s golden age under founder (and Nixon crony) Walter Annenberg. The listings could be brought back up to a useable level of completeness, and could be put out in Central and Mountain time-zone versions instead of just Eastern and Pacific. The local listings could be brought back in vestigial form, as an eight- to twelve-page newsprint insert stapled into the middle.

In short, it could be much more like TV Guide Ultimate Cable, a short-lived test-marketed revamp of the mag from the mid-’90s.

Or, let someone else do the job. The new TV Guide, in dumping its costly programming-database costs, has lowered the bar toward potential competition. Let’s get another TV mag out there, one that gives a damn about viewers/readers who give a damn.

As some of you know, I’m in the midst of writing a book to be sold exclusively online, Take Control of Digital TV. It’s intended for readers who know about computers but don’t know about television, particularly the new hi-def generation of TV gear. As part of the research, I’m currently watching the DVD Digital Video Essentials, a way-comprehensive guide to installing and adjusting medium- to high-end video gear. The HDTV and home-theater subculture is audiophile geekiness cubed (at least).

TV has become high-attention, long-attention-span material. A print mag that wants to keep calling itself the authority on the field ought to be becoming smarter, not dumber.


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