Battle of the cable magazines, or how do you list 5,000 systems?

The print war between the TV-listings titans begins next week. It's Triangle Publications' venerable, 35-year-old TV Guide vs. Time Inc.'s upstart TV-Cable Week, which will be launched in five selected markets with its first issue, April 10, and in two more communities the next week.

TV Guide, with a circulation of around 17 million (down from a high of around 19 million), seems to be running scared. Lately it has been adding regional cable highlights to the complete up-to-date over-the-air listings it has always featured. Its editorial content has also veered toward the sensational recently, with controversial stories on the alleged ''smear'' by ''60 Minutes'' of Gen. William Westmoreland and rather loose accusations of cocaine use among Hollywood producers.

TV-Cable Week, the new girl in town, combines many of the important features of both TV Guide and On Cable (the latter a burgeoning cable-listings magazine with a circulation of 1.2 million which seems to have been overlooked in all the TV-Cable Week hoopla).

As a result, TV-Cable Week is a fat volume of around 100 pages (!) with plans eventually to serve most of the individual cable systems with detailed listings and feature material covering both over-the-air broadcasting and cable.

It will be marketed through major cable systems and will cost subscribers around year, to be paid by the system operaors, by the cable subscribers, or in most cases jointly. Like On Cable, it will not be available on the newsstands (at least at the beginning), but only through cable operators. The systems involved in the initial week's launching are in Pompano Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Peoria, Ill.; Audubon, N.J.; and Arlington, Texas. The week after that there will be start-ups in Austin, Texas, and Springfield, Mo.

I have seen an advance copy of the first issue of TV-Cable Week and can report that, revolutionary as its detailed-coverage concept may be, its content is rather predictable - a mixture of Time Inc.'s People magazine, the late Triangle Publications' Panorama Magazine, and TV Guide.

Its pages, the size of Time magazine, feature lots of color photographs and such short features as ''The Oscars' Casting Crunch'' and ''Who Will Win the World Series?'' and articles on how much the stars earn, will Johnny Carson be replaced by Alan Thicke, and interactive cable. In the center of the magazine there is a yellow listings section including a premium channel directory, an hour-by-hour log of all channels, and a coming-soon-on-cable section.

Each day has a well-designed Quick-Scan chart for information at a glance. In addition, there is a welcoming message from the local cable system manager. In the Pennsylvania edition I saw, there were 24 channel listings each day.

I talked to the publisher of TV-Cable Week, Daniel E. Zucchi, about Time Inc.'s well-publicized plan to take over the TV-listings market - it has been reported that the parent company is prepared to lose $100 million before getting into the black with the new publication.

It seems almost an impossibility for any weekly publication to come up with complete listings for cable. There are around 5,000 cable systems, each offering a different mix of programming, and it's often not even certain until the last moment what they will be scheduling.

According to TV-Cable Week publisher Zucchi, the plan is to launch around 30 editions in 1983, perhaps as many as 150 editions in the next few years. ''It depends upon how the cable markets grow,'' he says. In any event, it is apparent that the smaller markets will have to fend for themselves, since it would not be economicaly feasible to prepare editions for each of the 5,000 cable systems.

Does Mr. Zucchi consider his magazine a replacement for TV Guide? ''I think there's a market for both. Some consumers might even subscribe to both. There are a lot of markets we are not going to serve. We are a different product for a different time and a different medium.''

He stresses that his magazine will not be as ''trade'' oriented as TV Guide has become. ''We're more interested in what the viewer is going to see. We will feature program content. After all, people don't really care whether the cable comes in through the window or the basement. What they care about is what they are paying $20 or $40 a month for. Is it worth it? We will allow them to make that value judgment by telling them everything that is on their TV screen, 24 hours a day.''

The initial circulation of TV-Cable Week is expected to be 150,000, and the plan is to grow to 600,000 by the end of the year. After that, the ultimate goal is perhaps beyond even TV Guide's 19 million high.

I also talked to Peter Funt, editor and publisher of On Cable. He insists that it's a big mistake for the new magazine to attempt to publish on a weekly basis. ''You've got to work through the cable system operators, and they function on a monthly basis. They bill monthly, not weekly. And weekly cable listings will be confusing and repetitious.''

Over at TV Guide, busy adding more gossip and inside reports, editorial director Merrill Panitt seems to shrug off reports of extended listings, recognizing the fact that complete listings on a national basis would mean issues the size of telephone directories, and total regional coverage would be unfeasible economically. ''We list what people watch,'' he is quoted as saying.

Where will it all end? The more information available, the better equipped the viewer will be to make selections. But so much information can also be confusing, as well as time-consuming. I predict that soon there will be a demand for a weekly ''poop sheet'' which simply advises viewers what is worthwhile and spares them reading through so much background information.Probably even more valuable will be the on-screen listings guide for each night's viewing now being offered on many cable systems. The ultimate answer may be an electronic guide to the electronic world.

Meanwhile, take your choice - TV Guide, TV-Cable Week, On Cable, other cable guides, your local newspaper. Or you could just leave the set dark for a while and read a good book. Another Venice

PBS is airing a practical lesson in Jewish history, taught with the glorious backdrop of one of the most beautiful and exotic cities in the world.

In 1515, all the Jews of Venice were forced to move to an isolated little island, the site of an ancient cannonball factory. The word getom meant ''foundry.'' Hence the contemporary variation, ''ghetto.''

Geto: The Historic Ghetto of Venice (PBS, Wednesday, 10-11 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats)m traces the history of the Jews in Venice, as well as the history of the ghetto-isolation of other Jews in various civilizations throughout history. The film, part of ''Holocaust Remembrance Week ,'' is an engrossing electronic chalk talk, an illustrated lecture focusing on the positive ways that Jews made at least partly constructive use of what would seem to have been total adversity. The documentary is made even more absorbing by the mellifluous quality of the voice of the producer-writer-narrator, Regina Resnik, heretofore best known as an operatic diva.

Where once there were 5,000 Jews in Venice, now there are 500. And although the ghetto gates have long since been torn down, remnants of the ancient ghetto still stand in that city. Woodcuts and drawings of the old ghetto are juxtaposed with film of the present district, with Miss Resnik taking viewers on a guided tour of Judaic history. As the film stops here and there at the banks, pawnshops, and peddlars' racks near the Rialto, it explains the origins of some of the world's anti-Semitic stereotypes, at the same time capturing the Titian and Veronese color of Venice. Oscar alternative

Except for a time slot opposite the Superbowl, the time opposite the annual Academy Awards show is generally considered the worst period on the year's schedule.

This year, however, it's a viable alternative for viewers who prefer something other than the ''and the winner is . . .'' syndrome.

CBS is providing a fascinating news special, Eye on the Media: Private Lives, Public Press (Monday, 10-11 p.m., check local listings)m, for non-Oscar viewers. Charles Kuralt, Barbara Walters, Lauren Bacall, Morley Safer, Ed Bradley, William F. Buckley Jr., former US Rep. Millicent Fenwick, James Hoge, Sally Quinn, Van Gordon Sauter, and many others take part in an informal examination of the boundaries of good taste in the public media.

When does the individual's right to privacy clash with the public's right to know? Obviously there is no definitive answer, but the search for an answer by these experts is amusing, informative, stimulating television. Moderated expertly by Harvard law professor Arthur R. Miller, this second tape of a recent CBS News-Columbia School of Journalism seminar poses some disturbing questions and comes up with some equally disturbing attitudes.

Gerry Spence, an articulate lawyer who is one of the panelists, steals much of the performing thunder from the television professionals who take part. He seems to be auditioning for a spot in TV, and I wouldn't be surprised to find him with his own talk show one of these days.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Battle of the cable magazines, or how do you list 5,000 systems?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today