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TV Guide Forays into VoIP
[July 26, 2005]

TV Guide Forays into VoIP

By ROBERT LIU
TMCnet Wireless and Technology Columnist

On the same day Gemstar-TV Guide International struggles to re-invent its flagship magazine and stave off what many foresee as its imminent demise, the media and entertainment information provider also took steps to broaden its channels of distribution in the digital realm.

Gemstar-TV Guide on Tuesday announced that its new TV Guide SPOT on-demand network will provide content to ViseonMedia, a subsidiary of Viseon, for use as part of a U.S. pilot program with VisiFone Multimedia digital home telephone users scheduled for early 2006. The new VisiFone Multimedia digital telephone for VoIP is a digital telephone/videophone capable of displaying fully interactive video and digital audio without the complexities of a personal computer. TV Guide will provide selected programming from TV Guide SPOT and will format and deliver to VisiFone-installed homes throughout the country.

The deal is the latest in a string of content partnerships struck by ViseonMedia. Just yesterday, Viseon announced it struck a similar arrangement with Court TV. In addition, Paramount Pictures, The Weather Channel Interactive, Discovery Networks, Fox News Channel, and AccuWeather will also supply content.

The new media deals are a stark contrast to Gemstar's other announcement of the day, outlining a radical new publishing strategy to re-invent TV Guide as the once-staple magazine continues to lose readers and relevance. Due to the proliferation of Internet TV listings and interactive channel guides by MSOs, the pocket-sized magazine (which once was the top-ranked publication in the U.S. as measured by circulation) has languished; and, starting October 17, will be recast as a full-sized pub and far fewer TV listings. Those developments help underscore Gemstar's desire (as well as its race-against-time) to tap into the realm of digital distribution.

"We're excited to participate in this pilot and make our content available to yet another new digital platform," said Stacy Jolna, TV Guide SPOT general manager.

Although the financial arrangements weren't disclosed, the arrangement on the surface appears to help TV Guide by opening a new channel for distribution and broadening its target demographic, analysts said.

"VoIP is going mainstream...it would probably help them to attract a broader younger audience," said Linda Starr, senior analyst at Frost & Sullivan. Because TV Guide traditionally skews toward an older demographic, the Viseon partnership can actually help Gemstar's image. And, of course with TV Guide, Viseon can leverage the brand name to help market its ViseonMedia service.

Starr, an IP Communications analyst who knows the Viseon's product line, believes the content offered by the Gemstar partnership is a good strategic fit.

"The TV, PC, the phone...they really are different experiences," she told TMCnet, explaining that the TV experience is much more passive compared with PC or phones. And while consumers probably won't want to watch full-length movies on the PC or VoIP phone, the smaller format of 30-second commercials may work on a VoIP screen phone in a person's kitchen.

"I think TV listings is something that is quick and easy," Starr said.

Viseon itself acknowledges that ViseonMedia interactive programming on the VisiFone is not designed to replace the television or the web portal experience. Instead, it is a dedicated third screen within the home where consumers can automatically view personalized information on their preferred schedule in a TV-quality like experience.

According to IDC, 3 million users will have VoIP service in 2005, reaching 27 million users by 2009.


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Robert Liu is Executive Editor at TMCnet. Previously, he was Executive Editor at Jupitermedia and has also written for CNN, A&E, Dow Jones and Bloomberg. For more articles, please visit Robert Liu's columnist page.

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