What’s on Tonight?

Gemstar-TV Guide International and Comcast released results of a national study about consumers and “interactive program guides“. These are the electronic guides available from television services, from cable and satellite to the free over-the-air broadcasts. And few will be surprised to find that these guides have become almost as indispensible as the remote control.

80% of survey respondents say they always use the program guide to decide what to watch. The respondents also confirmed that they learned about new programs through the guide. 85% of guide users check it during commercials when watching a show.

One interesting statistic from the poll is that 67% of viewers decide what to watch after they sit down at the television. From observation in our own household, however, this is not as surprising as it might be at first glance. We have a DVR, so now we rarely start watching TV “on the hour“. Instead, we typically fire up the DVR and see what we have stored, and pick a show that suits our mood and who is watching. (There are shows that my wife watches by herself, shows that I watch by myself, and shows that we watch together.) We do occasionally watch “live” programming, primarily sporting events, and we’ll arrange our schedules to watch at that specific time. So “not knowing” what you’re going to watch two-thirds of the time seems about right to me.

Another interesting cluster of statistics relates to the advertising on the electronic guides. Half of the people using Gemstar’s guide reported that they noticed ads on the guide. Half of those that noticed have clicked on an ad for more information, and about a fifth have clicked on ads at least once a week. Seven out of ten who noticed an ad for a specific program ended up watching the program. And 40% of those who saw an ad for a pay-per-view program ordered it.

These statistics are interesting because they are another piece in the puzzle of figuring out who is going to pay for our programming, and how. If these programming guide ads are so effective, they could become a key part of the money flow. As the television viewing and World Wide Web browsing experiences merge, the Internet-style interactive ads may become more important for television programming than the traditional “commercial interruption” model. Remember, it’s only “junk mail” if it’s about something that doesn’t interest you. As the programming options explode through cable, satellite, and Internet offerings, the chances increase that your interests will correlate more closely with others watching the same program. Advertisers will be able to deliver their messages to you with laser-precision. Their ad dollars will be more effective, and you’ll see fewer offers that don’t appeal to you.