Gemstar-TV Guide Gets Personal

Intros next-generation guide with customized interface

News Corp.'s Gemstar-TV Guide is unveiling a next-generation guide to bring a new level of personalization to the TV viewing experience by reaching viewers on a variety of devices.

The program guide giant's latest offering, My TV Guide, will be demonstrated at the NCTA convention in Las Vegas this week in an Internet version and a cable version that is running on high-end Motorola and Cisco/Scientific-Atlanta digital set-tops.

The company, which has already sold some 70 million intellectual-property licenses in the cable market, will be actively licensing My TV Guide to cable operators, in either online or set-top form. Satellite operators EchoStar and DirecTV, cable operator Suddenlink and telco Verizon have already announced that they will “collaborate” with Gemstar-TV Guide on My TV Guide services.

The online version will be released later this year; the cable version isn't expected to roll out until early 2008. Gemstar-TV Guide will also be making versions of My TV Guide for consumer electronics devices and mobile phones, consistent with the company's goal of creating core guidance technology that can be leveraged across multiple platforms.

“The idea is to create more synergy across the platforms, with cross-platform support,” says Peter Kellogg-Smith, VP of product management for Gemstar-TV Guide. “We're well positioned because of our presence on all these platforms.”

Kellogg-Smith, who heads a newly formed, corporate product-development team that is developing technologies for Gemstar-TV Guide, says that extensive consumer research reveals what he calls the “paradox of choice”: As consumers get more and more programming choices, their overall satisfaction with TV viewing declines.

The long-established model of program grids, employed by Gemstar TV-Guide and other interactive-program-guide (IPG) providers like Aptiv Digital (which Gemstar-TV Guide acquired in March), simply isn't efficient at showing the proliferation of choices.

At the same time, consumers have grown accustomed to Web portals like Yahoo, which allow a high level of content customization and shopping Websites such as Amazon that proactively recommend products; the functionality of existing TV guides pales in comparison.

“Consumers want a customized and personalized guidance experience,” says Smith.

To that end, My TV Guide is eschewing the grid model and is, instead, allowing viewers to customize their guide and filter content according to favorite shows, genres or celebrities. Upon first using the guide, viewers will be able to set up a profile for their TV viewing. The cable version is expected to handle up to five profiles per household. Even if viewers do not have a digital video recorder, they will be able to select their favorite programs or channels to be actively tracked in categories such as “My Programs,” “My Channels on Now,” and “My Channels on Next.” The guide will also include lists of recommended programs generated by the TV Guide editorial staff, such as the “Hot List” or “Chick Flicks,” says Smith.

Gemstar-TV Guide plans to allow My TV Guide users to receive program notifications on their mobile phones via SMS messaging. It will also allow them to use a mobile phone to remotely schedule program-recording on their DVR, a capability the company is currently integrating into the existing “i-Guide” cable platform it jointly developed with Comcast. Another feature planned for My TV Guide is the ability to click one's way to bonus content, such as interviews with movie stars, celebrity trivia or other fan fare, that could be delivered by the video-on-demand platform or a broadband connection.

“The key goal is to have people in guidance for a longer period of time,” says Smith. “So instead of having a quick hit, they browse around.”

At NCTA, Gemstar-TV Guide will also be demonstrating “j-Guide,” a version of its cable guide that is compatible with the OpenCable Applications Platform (OCAP) standard, which is designed to standardize set-top functionality and support downloadable security. While OCAP has been slow to develop, major operators are now firmly behind the technology.

Says Tom Carson, president of interactive program guides for Gemstar-TV Guide, “The train's going that way.”

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