Media Analysis: TV listings mags face competition

As The Sun becomes the latest national newspaper to launch its own free TV guide, Tom Williams asks whether standalone TV listings magazines have a future and what opportunities they have to offer PROs.

The Sun's new TV guide will be the latest free supplement from the national newspapers to put the squeeze on the once-dominant market of standalone TV listings magazines.

They face an uphill struggle to convince viewers to stump up a cover price of between 40p and 90p when these people can get a free listings magazine as part of the package they receive with their weekend newspaper.

But the case that this is a section of the media under threat is not so clear cut. BBC Worldwide's flagship magazine Radio Times has stabilised its ABC circulation with a 0.25 per cent decline from December 2002 to December 2003, while IPC Media's TV Times slipped 7.5 per cent during the same period and H Bauer Publishing's title TVQuick fell by ten per cent. But at the same time, H Bauer's more family oriented TV Choice has rocketed up by 12.7 per cent.

Standalone significance

Editorial coverage in the TV listings magazines is still essential, according to Resonate director Graham Drew, who handles PR for Fox network channel FX 289. But he agrees that competition has made PROs' jobs more difficult.

'One of the first questions you always get from these titles is one of exclusivity. When we promoted the HBO drama Playmakers, we had to broker exclusive interviews tailored to the readers of each TV magazine,' he says.

Channel Four chief press officer Lysette Cohen is in no doubt as to the significance of the standalone listings press. 'They are all important. The difference between these magazines and the nationals' free guides is that people have made a choice to buy them and want a good look at what is coming up,' she says.

Competition may be fierce, but standalone TV guides remain an important tool through which to reach the UK's vast TV audience, and as such represent a conduit that PROs cannot afford to overlook.

Radio Times

Publisher: BBC Worldwide

ABC:1,157,481

Gill Hudson: Editor What is your target audience?

Well over 70 per cent of our readership are ABC1. They are looking for real quality and insight, not just a round-up of the soaps.

How does that influence content?

Most listings magazines would probably just profile the plot and characters of a new drama, but we might use a new drama to look at the genre. We have our own list of the top 40 people involved with drama as a kind of kitemark standard of quality, so you know that if one of these people is involved with a new programme, you are going to get quality.

How do you feel about PROs?

A lot of our copy and interviews get picked up elsewhere because you won't read it anywhere else. That is why we won't do copy approval or allow PROs to sit in on interviews. PR people need to understand the kind of programmes we are looking at. We are not interested in the outer reaches of the satellite channels.

TV Choice/TV Quick

Publisher: H Bauer Publishing

ABC: 1,017,468 (TV Choice), 375,780 (TV Quick)

Nicole Carmichael: Deputy editor What are your markets?

TV Quick targets 18 to 45-year-old women, while TV Choice takes in everyone from kids to grandparents. TV Choice has a Kids' Choice page and offers a family overview package. This means it shies away from post-watershed programming. TV Quick is edgier and focuses more on the celebrity angle.

How do you manage PRO contact?

Our showbusiness editor, Mary Camerford, is in touch with all the networks' press offices so we know what is coming up when pegging our content.

Do you feel under pressure from the free listing supplements in nationals?

Our research shows that a typical household has an average of four TVs with a listings guide for each. We come out on Tuesday, which means we have exclusives on the TV news stories that the national pull-outs then follow on Saturday.

TV Times

Publisher: IPC Media

ABC: 524,131

Ian Abbott: Deputy editor What's your editorial content?

Our features are connected to the TV programmes running that week. Unless there is some kind of link to what is on TV, we are unlikely to write about it.

Is there no other content?

Well, if the new Shrek film is about to be launched, we would probably cover that. Our news pages keep readers up to date with things coming up, celebrity ups and downs, births, marriages and deaths.

How should PROs contact you?

By phone or email. Early morning between nine and ten is the best time for me.

Why do people read TV Times when they can read the pull-outs from the nationals for free?

We are still selling well because we're reliable and loyal to our readers. They know we will always be first with the major story. People in TV will talk to us because they know we won't misquote them or stitch them up.

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