Guiding the interactive change

Gemstar-TV Guide's Battista high on programming, Web future

With hundreds of television channels and millions of online videos vying for the attention of consumers, Richard Battista, CEO of Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc., figures his company is in the sweet spot. After all, what better place for people to turn when making their viewing choices than TV Guide? Besides the recently remade iconic guide, the company's assets include the TV Guide Channel and Web site and its interactive programming guide. Battista recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter West Coast business editor Paul Bond.

The Hollywood Reporter: You talk of investment in exclusive programming for your TV Guide Channel. What kind of money are we talking about?

Richard Battista: We don't disclose detailed programing costs for our shows. This year we had a 25% increase in our programming and marketing budget versus last year, and last year we spent 25% more than the year before. We changed basically the entire programming format of the network. … Two years ago, we made a concerted effort to create 30-minute and one-hour programs that cover the world of television.

THR: How about advertisers?

Battista: Historically, the channel got OK advertising, mostly infomercial and direct-response advertising. We said, again, if we create original programming that's about television, we can significantly enhance the ad opportunities. Now we have full-blown advertising coming from a number of blue-chip brands.

THR: What are your highest-rated shows?

Battista: The red-carpet specials with Joan and Melissa Rivers each year.

THR: You've said TV will change more dramatically in the next 10 years than it did in the entire last generation. How will it change and how will you make money from those changes?

Battista: We believe the world of guidance in television and media is more important than ever … there are more options than ever. Given that, what better company than TV Guide, which defined television guidance 53 years ago? What better brand than ours to help people navigate in this new world?

THR: Which companies or industries will not recover from disruptive digital changes?

Battista: In some ways, it's creating a renaissance. In broadcast TV, they have more competition so we have to raise their game. Obviously, the DVD market may change over time … but outside of that, the pie is getting bigger and creating more opportunity.

THR: You've made moves into wireless phones and iPods. Where is the revenue potential for you there and what do consumers really want to do on their cell phones in regard to television?

Battista: We're taking our guidance mission and placing it on new platforms. As it relates to mobile, Step 1 is that you're able to access your interactive program guide from your mobile phone. If you love "24" and forgot to TiVo it, we'll give you the ability from your phone and, for that matter, from the Web site.

THR: You've relaunched and purchased How has your business improved since those online moves?

Battista: One of the major themes for relaunching the site was to make broadband and video much more prevalent. Before we changed the site, we would get 15,000 streams per day of people watching video. We've been averaging 750,000 since we relaunched. … We've also become like on steroids. If you type in "24," you'll get where it's showing in your market and be able, in early 2007, to click it and record it. We'll have video that we created about "24" and also third-party video. … We'll have every TV Guide cover that we've ever done related to the show and an episode guide for every episode. And everything else has.

THR: In Europe, teletext on TV screens is a news and information service where you hit a button on your remote and get news, sports results, etc., by typing in certain page numbers, all onscreen. Is Gemstar doing anything in that arena?

Battista: We are beginning to look at the world of interactive applications. We're working with a major MSO. Not exactly like you said, but the idea that, if I'm watching the TV Guide Channel and I want to know what movies are on TV tonight, I can click a button and the 20 movies will pop up. And by the way, of the 20, here are the five that we recommend most and you can read a quick synopsis and review of each. You'll see us soon announce some more interactive applications related to the channel. It's an obvious place to go.