When Betabeat stopped by the TV Guide offices in Times Square yesterday, Christy Tanner didn’t waste any time getting our attention, pointing out that TVGuide.com gets 25 million monthly unique visitors, up from 4 million since 2006. (For reference, last year comScore reported that The New York Times’s website was attracting 30 million monthly uniques.) What’s more, she added, anticipating our assumptions, almost half those users are under 35 and average 22 page-views per person. Sixty-year-old brands repositioning themselves for the internet era, we suppose, don’t have time to beat around the bush.
In fact, as Ms. Tanner, executive VP and general manager of the website and TV Guide Mobile, explained, TV Guide Digital seems to be in the midst of a digital reawakening, the best example of which is its surprising useful new app, released on iOS today, with an Android version coming this fall.
The TV Guide cable channel, website and brand are owned as part of a joint venture between Lionsgate and One Equity Partners, JPMorgan’s private equity firm, but the digital arm operates independently. Modeled after a startup, the staff is divided equally into developers, editors/writers and sales. And has spent the past two years researching and developing the app to improve on its first-generation, listings-only mobile version, which has had 7 million downloads and gets 1.5 million monthly active users.
The new app makes it incredibly easy to personalize results using a platform they call “Watchlist.” Users can input their interests in terms of actors, shows, movies, sports teams, etc., and Watchlist will display where you can find free and pay episodes on TV, on demand (it was the first to index Xfinity results obscured by Comcast’s unintuitive cable system) or even streaming. Better yet, the results, which are sortable by what’s on right now or what’s new to stream, sends you directly to that episode on Hulu Plus, iTunes, Crackle, HBO Go, MAX Go and more, with plans to add more sources in the coming months.
Other apps, like BuddyTV Guide and Peel also offer customizable results, but the Watchlist feature, which has already picked up 500,000 members online, differentiates TV Guide’s offering. Ms. Tanner said the company was surprised to see users adding shows before they had even premiered, which helped them to figure out that “New Girl,” was going to be a hit before Fox started offering the premiere for free on iTunes, as well as to identify sleeper hits passed over by the critics, like the History Channel’s miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys.”
AdAge has started regularly publishing Watchlist data, like which new fall shows have been added, but Ms. Tanner said TV Guide is waiting until it gets 1 million users before it starts building a recommendations tool off of the results. For now, however, the data helps TV Guide lock down advertisers, since the company is able to approach specific shows and entice them to advertise if a show is a popular, or if it isn’t. (Based on advertising revenue, TV Guide Digital has been profitable for the past two years.)
In addition to Watchlist, the app includes a number of other mechanisms for discovery, including sorting the standard TV listings by favorite channels, and looking at the TV schedule by what’s popular or what’s trending.
The TV Guide also includes social features like “I’ll Watch” social sharing or the ability to check into shows on Facebook or Twitter, although we remain unconvinced that’s a better option than just, saying, checking Twitter for Aaron Sorkin hate-a-thon that erupts alongside “The Newsroom” every Sunday night.