Sunday, August 2, 2009

Odd unbundling decision

This morning brought is the penultimate issue of the weekly TV listings insert in the San Jose Mercury News, as well as for its sister papers in the Bay Area News Group. On August 16, the TV listings will only go to those who pay $26/year. While I certainly get the Merc’s need for new business models, this seems like a non-starter.

Once upon a time, TV listings were one of the main reasons people bought the Sunday paper; I know that’s what caused me to take the SD papers rather than the LA Times, even when I preferred the latter’s news and features. Apparently such sections have been a money loser for years, and several papers (including both Boston papers) have already dumped theirs, in part due to the cost of providing comprehensive information on all the various cable and DVS stations.

Perhaps the Merc is giving away so many papers — to keep the ad rate base up — that they need to charge for something. Certainly charging for the TV section must means that it plan to keep the section ad-free, since the section and its ads will be seen by only a small fraction of the 650,000 Bay Area News Group daily newspaper readers — I’d wager less than 10%.

A decade ago, I might have ponied up for the section or gone out and spent $40/year to subscribe to the dead tree TV Guide. Today, many people use the TV Guide Channel, that combination of listings and shows that makes TMZ seem like Masterpiece Theatre.

The TV Guide Channel doesn’t help our family, because Comcast no longer provides it free on basic cable. Still, we’ll get by just fine without the Mercury’s TV section: provides more accurate information, for free. If gets greedy and wants to charge, TV listings are a commodity and so I have plenty of other alternatives: TitanTV,, AOL or a number of other sites.

So why charge if it’s doomed to fail? Perhaps it’s one last attempt by the TV section staff to prove they’re valuable rather than get laid off immediately. Who knows? Perhaps there are enough non-Internet savvy seniors to keep the section around for another year or two.

No comments: