New Leader to Guide

TV Guide Channel president shares his plan

Ryan O’Hara was named president of the TV Guide Channel last week, moving over from the same position at sister network TVG, Gemstar-TV Guide’s interactive horseracing network. O’Hara now oversees both the TV Guide Channel and its VOD service, TV Guide Spot. He spoke to B&C’s Ben Grossman about his new role.

With the old on-screen scroll essentially gone, what is the value proposition of the TV Guide Channel?

The utility part of the network tells people what is on and helps viewers better their TV experience. But we also can tell you the buzz around television and provide some light, fluffy entertainment.

What are your biggest challenges now?

We have to make sure our marketing and programming are understood. We are refocused on further investing in and refining the programming, and increasing trial and usage. There is upside in just generating buzz, and better programming to drive ratings and create better vehicles for advertising. We’ll continue to look for ways to get smart about the way we market ourselves to viewers.

TV Guide magazine is drastically reinventing itself, scaling down listings and slashing its rate base. How will that affect the channel?

The network should get stronger with the change. But independent of the magazine, the channel is pretty powerful. It’s in 75 million homes, and it was up 25% year-over-year in July prime time. So some of the programming changes are resonating with viewers. I think the channel has a good future, independent of the magazine.

Behind the ratings bump, there has been a significant increase in programming expenditures as you’ve developed several original shows of late. How do you measure return on investment on such a strategy, and will it continue?

We have been investing more in programming and marketing, and our successes are both a result of our focus on the type of programming we are doing and the amount of resources we are putting against it. Obviously, we don’t look at specific ROI simply. We look at it as investment in the value of the product, and we’re willing to invest in it when it makes sense. I think serious investment in the channel will continue.

Is program acquisition part of your vision?

We already work with outside production outfits on a variety of the shows we are running. You’ll see more and more interaction and working within the Hollywood community. As far as buying syndicated product or reruns or off-network–type stuff, it’s a little early for me to contemplate that.

With Gemstar-TV Guide part of News Corp., has Rupert Murdoch’s increased focus on the Internet trickled down to your new job yet?

As News Corp. looks to build out good verticals on the Internet, plus synergies between these different verticals, I think we fit perfectly into that strategy with our relationship to TV Guide Online. But we’re also looking at it from a Gemstar-TV Guide perspective.

What’s the strategy for expanding the TV Guide Spot VOD service, and how long until you add corporate cousin DirecTV to your deals with Time Warner, Comcast and TiVo?

We’re talking to them. We don’t really talk about individual negotiations, but suffice it to say we are talking to all the major cable and satellite providers.

But the overall strategy is two-fold: driving usage and expanding reach. From an operator’s standpoint, it’s a value-added product for their service to promote and push VOD. From a consumer’s standpoint, it is a utility product, as well as entertainment.