The on-screen television guide, or electronic program guide (EPG), has evolved slowly since first arriving in consumer homes. Pay-TV operators adopted the basic grid layout decades ago, and they have largely stuck with that format since. However, the scope of television content and services has changed dramatically since the early days. First there was an explosion of TV channels, which made the gridded guide more difficult to navigate. Then came digital video recording (DVR) and video on demand (VOD), which added not only more content to the mix but also new platforms for video viewing that had to be integrated at an interface level.
The purpose of the on-screen guide has shifted too. While the main objective is still to provide information on television programming, the EPG has the potential to be a much broader and interactive entertainment portal. The guide interface is only one aspect. A more complicated matter is how the guide ties into content-recommendation engines, interactive applications, advertising platforms, and more. Television service providers and connected-TV device manufacturers all want to use the EPG as an access point for understanding consumers on the one hand and reaching out to or influencing them on the other. In other words, the EPG is a gateway to the living room and a way to own the consumer at home.
This is why, for example, Comcast spent $250 million and entered into a joint venture with Gemstar, the maker of TV Guide, in 2004. It’s also why Microsoft tried for years to establish a Microsoft TV program guide in the cable industry before eventually giving up in favor of pursuing only IP-based television initiatives. Comcast and Microsoft both recognized television’s central role in consumers’ lives. They rightly saw opportunity there and wanted to capitalize on it. But even they couldn’t have predicted how significantly the internet would alter the television landscape or how much the stakes of the TV game would change.
More than anything else, the internet has exposed consumers to what is possible with video and the video-guide interface. The web has whetted appetites for richer graphics, new modes of content discovery, multiscreen access, and interactive applications. Because of the open nature of the internet, it has also attracted more developers to the task of user interface innovation. And with more players on the field, the pace of change has accelerated.
It will take a while to move entirely away from legacy program guides, but with companies converging on the problem from many sides, much of the transition will unfold between 2013 and 2015. Once the transition to web-based, or cloud-based, guides has taken place, more-functional changes will also start to occur. The TV-program guide will be more than just a pretty interface. It will be a front for new channels of entertainment, information, and commerce.