As cable channels proliferated, TV Guide magazine actually reduced the listings.
Once the highest weekly circulation magazine in the U.S., TV Guide was sold recently for one dollar. Macrovision acquired the magazine, and the popular TV listings web site, and the notorious Gemstar EPG patent portfolio this past year (see DVR and STB designers rejoice: Gemstar is kinder and gentler (again!)), but apparently Macrovision decided the magazine wasn't worth holding onto. (It sold previously for $9.2 billion in 2000, and OpenGate Capital, the new owners, have assumed subscription obligations estimated at $85 million. Macrovision paid $2.8 billion for the entire company -- electronic and print -- earlier this year.)
The 55-year old print magazine had dropped in circulation from a peak of approximately 20-million copies per week, around 1980, to roughly 3.2 million today. Over the course of time, as cable channels proliferated, TV Guide magazine actually reduced the number of listings it carried -- an admission, essentially, that TV listings had become unwieldy for print, and only an onscreen EPG or online website can effectively deliver comprehensive TV listings in the age of 500 channels.
Which explains why Macrovision did not sell the TVGuide.com web site (in the interest of journalistic ethics: I worked for a competing TV listings web site and EPG service in a David vs. Goliath effort whose ending was quite un-biblical, and meeting legendary Gemstar founder Henry Yuen along the way.) In fact, the magazine's new owners say they'll create their own website, but won't compete with listings -- and they're re-focusing the magazine away from listings altogether.
The real value of the business -- the parts that Macrovision is retaining -- are patent licensing and the electronic delivery of listings to set top boxes, TV sets and other devices. The value of the TV Guide brand is in EPGs and program guide channels.
Printed TV listings still exist in newspapers and some other magazines, but with "TV Guide" brand listings becoming exclusively electronic, the torch has now officially been passed from paper to screen. Electronic program guides rule.